Everyone has preferences in the things they read. For some, it’s magic and battle scenes, for others it’s deep introspection and philosophy. Some read for twists and surprises at the end, and others read for the ways characters change over time.
In poetry, these preferences often have more to do with things like sound and rhythm— some people just love alliteration, and others find that any more than two words in a row beginning with the same letter becomes repetitive. Some like rhyme and end stopped lines, and other people fall in love with the subtle music of assonance and consonance and the use of enjambment. Some people love narrative poetry, and others just want the emotion.
I love things to be wet.
It sounds odd at first, but to me, everything is more vivid when it’s wet. I think this is because rain and moisture in the air allows us to expand our sense of smell, and so I associate water with a richer experience of life. When it’s raining, we might love petrichor, and the smell of rain itself, but we also love the smell of the world. Rain shows us what we’re missing.
Maybe a part of it is just because I am allowed to enter my own imagination more when I’m in the shower. The water opens up an inner universe that becomes dreamlike in its realness. The moments when I’m under the surface in a lake or ocean, I feel like I’m under the world, outside of time. Under the water, it’s like I’m back again in the weightlessness before my birth; I can feel the presence of a safe, temporary inside and a vast, unexplored outside.
All the times I’ve walked home in clothes drenched and heavy, or splashed through puddles filled with brown, limp leaves, or watched spaghetti moving like sea creatures in bubbling pots, or smelled the way steam brings oil and garlic to life, or watched the world through the hot tears gathering at the corners of my eyes— it all builds on my associations. Water seems to be present when I am feeling the most physically and emotionally. It taps into something in life that is present and important.
Think about the poem by Ezra Pound
“In a Station of the Metro”
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Would that image be near as lasting if that was a dry brown branch? I don’t think it would. There is a slickness there where you can feel how easily you might slip trying to touch it, to hold on to it, and this allows the idea of the apparition to become more poignant. There is a fleeting emotion here— the faces in the crowd, the petals who might fall from the relentless impact of heavy raindrops, this wet branch. You can imagine losing yourself in the rain.
Brigit Pegeen Kelly uses water in the most beautiful ways, and I am absolutely addicted to it. Her poem “The Leaving” comes alive with its use of wetness.
My father said I could not do it,
but all night I picked the peaches.
The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily.
I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.
How many ladders to gather an orchard?
I had only one and a long patience with lit hands
and the looking of the stars which moved right through me
the way the water moved through the canals with a voice
that seemed to speak of this moonless gathering
and those who had gathered before me.
I put the peaches in the pond’s cold water,
all night up the ladder and down, all night my hands
twisting fruit as if I were entering a thousand doors,
all night my back a straight road to the sky.
And then out of its own goodness, out
of the far fields of the stars, the morning came,
and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses
just after it has been rung, before the metal
begins to long again for the clapper’s stroke.
The light came over the orchard.
The canals were silver and then were not.
and the pond was–I could see as I laid
the last peach in the water–full of fish and eyes.
The pond brings out the texture of every piece of fruit, the cold starlight across the water, and the pride of doing something someone told you that you could not do. If she had simply set the peaches in a basket, the poem would not have evoked the true weight of this moment. I would not have known what it was to place the last peach.
I fear for my love of wetness in verse. Sometimes I worry that it is becoming too strong in me— my longing for the words “wet,” “moist,” “damp,” “slick,” “drip,” “ocean,” “sea,” “steam,” “fog,” “juice,” and even words like “fluid,” “milk,” or “blood.” There is something so completely capturing to me in anything liquid that appears in poetry.
It’s obvious in my own work. I wrote a novel in verse, and I think if it was condensed to a mere ten words, three of them would be “wet,” “juice,” and “fruit.” I once wrote a poem entirely about my relationship with gasoline and the smell of exhaust from cars.
I worry, sometimes, that I am not the only one, and that everyone is craving water. What if our community of readers is a parched one? Maybe we are all dehydrated and waiting to drink deeply from our poems to rejuvenate life for us for a little while.
What happens when we drink too much and we can hear it constantly sloshing in our bellies? What happens when we flood our pages? I don’t want wetness to become the next “red as a rose.” I don’t want ripe fruit to ever be stale or dry.
But occasionally, I also worry that no one else has this preference. Poetry with wetness is so beautiful to me, and I want to share that feeling with other people.
I want my friends and family to be able to close their eyes and feel peaches rounding their palms in cold water. I want them to let their fingers slip from that wet black bough. I want them to listen for approaching storms and feel the way the air changes on their skin and in their lungs, just from the world anticipating the rain.