Is Poetry Important? Well, It’s Saved My Life.

There once was a fairly popular jazz singer from New York named Susannah McCorkle. She recorded quite a few albums, performed all over the place, and had a steady gig at the Algonguin Hotel at 59 W. 44th St. in Manhattan. (Yes, I’ve stayed there before. Gorgeous private wet bar in my room). But, you know how it is with businesses – out with the old, in with the new. As the Algonquin started hiring new, younger vocalists, the writing was on the wall – Susannah was about to go the way of the dodo bird.

Susannah had been a singer, and primarily just a singer, since she discovered Billie Holiday. She was in her early 20’s at the time. Dedicating her life to interpretation of the classics, she gained a bit of notoriety. All of that came crashing down when the management of Algonquin told her, when she was around 54 years old, to clear out her locker. A breast cancer survivor, and plagued for years by depression, she did what a lot of folks did with no other foreseeable source of income – take a flying leap out of their window. In her case, it was the 18th floor of her flat at 41 West 86th St. (Side note: I used to live at 313 West 81st St., eight blocks from her place).

Which brings us to poetry. There are all types of it: traditional, free verse, haiku, rhyming, ghazal, experimental, prose, etc. It’s almost endless. When you’ve lived for a fairly long time, believe me, the amount of stories you can tell is endless. And that’s what I’m finding out. As I’ve said in earlier posts, I started writing poems in earnest in the middle of February of this year, and so far, I’ve written about 220 poems. That’s quite a lot of stories, and I don’t even feel like I’m done.

Which brings us back to Susannah McCorkle. If I could could back in time, I’d tell her these things:

  1. Homelessness is not the end of the world. It’s just a temporary setback that, in time, will pass.
  2. Write poems about your life, your experiences, your loves and hates, but keep that ink flowing as if your life depended on it, because it does.
  3. Forget the naysayers who say you don’t have the gift of Shakespeare, Whitman, or Longfellow. Forge your own path. Let them keep up with you. In that sense, you’ve won. And congratulations from me.
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