Dionne Irving’s “Poetry” is poetic fiction told in four sections, one for each decade in one’s life (teens, twenties, thirties, forties). Undercutting all these life stages is the agony and soul-redeeming act that is poetry.
The story’s main character is the second person “you,” leading a penniless existence by virtue of her/your profession, and foisted into a succession of ever unfortunate hookups and heartbreaks (read: fodder for poetry).
In this fiction version of a poem, each section essentially stands for a stanza. And Irving sets apart each meaningful stanza with the relatable stages of a fated-to-starve artist’s life: The rebellious teens; the prime but torturous decade that is one’s twenties; the onset of conservative practicality in one’s thirties; and finally the pursuit of echoes of the past in one’s forties. The story’s ending begs the question: What follows then?
Irving captures so well the allure of poetry and poets themselves (“Some man asking to see your poetry, the disappointment that comes when the poetry isn’t about them.”). She also captures with such great insight various nuances of a poet’s life. How it might for some be “navel gazing to the point of tedium.” How it’s ridden with hope and potential, too often unfulfilled (“Plan to write an epic poem, one with sex, death, and remorse. One that will move people to tears. Write one verse. Save it as epic.doc on your computer. Don’t open that file again anytime soon”). The story culminates in one sterling last line (which I will not spoil for you here).
I dare any poet (or artist for that matter) to not relate to this beautifully composed poem/short story.
Revisit the spring 2009 issue to (re-)read “Poetry.”