The Hole in Your Heart Where the Meaning Goes

In June 2015, I was honored to be chosen as a visiting faculty member in poetry to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. My workshop was titled “Open 24/7: The Hole in Your Heart Where the Meaning Goes.” Leaving this work moldering in an electronic file saddens me, so I’m glad to present a renewed version of what I presented in my craft class:

“Point #3: Poetry fills the hole in your heart where the meaning goes.”

There is a hole in your heart where the meaning goes, and I have one, too, and I’ve noticed most choose odd and awkward junk to stuff into that emptiness.

People look for meaning in money, cars, love, sex, religion, possessions, shopping, entertainment, sports, education, hobbies, friends, family, politics, philosophy, and any one of a hundred other things, but poetry fills that void best for me. I’m happiest with the meaning I find in poems.

Look: Poets write poems to communicate an unexpected insight, a surprising idea, a shiny, new, little piece of wisdom. Poetry discovers and delivers meaning.

Unlike all that other junk, poetry is a search for meaning, not a search for some thing in which to place, or from which to draw, meaning. That other junk claims to have meaning; poetry creates meaning.

During National Poetry Month 2015, President Barack Obama, my favorite president ever, said, “If we didn’t have poetry, this would be a pretty barren world.”

That’s because poems help us decide what life, the universe, and everything means. Poems teach us to value who we are, where and when we are, how to make the most of what’s all around us, and how to value everything, immediately and deliciously. Poems express the joy of making sense of our experience, choosing meaning for our lives, and sharing that joy.

Eric Shaffer