Poems and Story

Some would say that story has no place in poetry. But then one might like to point out the ballad form. Also, too, that the oral history was likely conveyed through poetry form since the regular rhythmns of poetry are easier to memorise than flat prose. Yet whatever form you choose to use in poetry, I feel, at source, it is the story of the human soul. So poetry and story go hand in hand. The quotation that sparks today’s Poetry Daily practice comes from Ben Okri. Apart from being a marvelous writer and storyteller he published way back in 1996 a tiny book of aphorisms called Birds of Heaven, where he explores story and language and our relationship to both that challenges and inspires. His wisdom seems particularly pertinent at this juncture of human history. What narrative do we choose because, as he writes

The universe began as a story.

Ben Okri, Birds of Heaven

But also this

Stories can destroy civilisations, can win wars, can lose them, can conquer hearts by the millions, can transform enemies into friends, can help the sick towards healing, can sow the seeds of the creation of empires, can undo them, can re-shape the psychic mould of a people, can re-mould the political and spiritual temper of an age.

Ben Okri, Birds of Heaven

BrenĂ© Brown speaks of asking herself at critical times “what story am I telling myself?” We can tell ourselves real whoppers. Like “the story I am telling myself is…” I’m not good enough, not worthy, too fat, too dull, unqualified, not talented enough, unloveable, unloved, have too much baggage, have not the right experience. We tell ourselves stories all the time.

Stories can be either bacteria or light: they can infect a system, or illuminate a world.

Ben Okri, Birds of Heaven

So what stories are you telling yourself? What stories are you telling your children? What stories are they witnessing? (destruction mostly – war, crime, murder – or shopping for love.) How can we change toxic narratives into ones that are full of light? Sometimes it can be a case of re-framing the plot’s action. Perhaps we can tame and train our inner dragons, rather than unleash them to murder and mayhem. But first we need to tell ourselves that story, over and over again. Rather than stories about slaying and destroying, we need more stories about how to live and to let others live beside us even when they are really annoying.

The Poetry Daily to start your weekend.

 stories, resistance

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