Attn: you. My un-romantic pitch for poetry.
The beginning of a violet-hued adventure
Who has time for poetry? Maybe them, the ones with money and time in spades and hearts for romance. They beckon me to join the club but I want my best friends to be diamonds not paper dreams, not even Insta-paper.
Me, I’ve got a full house of worry. Money on my mind. Work in progress. A one-shot life in the making that I’m constantly trying to keep from breaking.
Poetry? Not for me.
But Einstein, he who figured out that time is relative and that’s as close as we’ve ever gotten to time travel, said something about insanity, that it’s doing the same thing over and over again expecting the same results. So when I was stuck, I explored things I used to say were not for me, for no good reason other than to try to solve a problem.
Poetry was not for me until I started to feel its textures: the lightly grazing lemon chiffon of a beating sun over a twinkling lake more like crinkling silver foil than water—and reading lines like this was escape enough when I couldn’t go anywhere.
Poetry was not for me until I stopped reading what they wanted me to read—everything I couldn’t help but skim, controversy designed to get a rise and a click from me, an algorithm designed to know me better than myself, until finally, I’d ask: is this really all I am?, as I swipe, swipe, swipe in search of a mirror more cool, more funny, more interesting.
Poetry was not for me until I listened closely to my favourite albums, googling “why does music cause shivers” in bed at 2am, wondering about the science of what happens to our bodies when we meet art that touches us—and then asking: what is good art? I don’t know but I think I can feel it.
Poetry was not for me until I read entire libraries and then the internet, and after all that time trying to find some grand secret, I watched all of it become common knowledge and then a past tense like clockwork, before realizing I would have preferred to know nothing if I could have all that time back because now I know, even with all the information in the world at our fingertips, it will never be enough.
Poetry was not for me until I, in the presence of other people who wrote poems about saying too many sorries, being a little bit much, existential crises, forms of love other than the kinds they’ve been writing about for so long—understood unsaid things to my core, shocked into a new state like an ice water bath filled with facts disguised as feelings. (Come to think of it, the exhilaration of stepping into a -110°C cryogenic chamber for 3 minutes was pretty close. Another one of my “let’s try something new” moments.)
Poetry was not for me until, squeezed out of time and energy, it was the smallest, quickest thing I could read for the most return on my investment (mostly free, mostly short), a practical benefit for me who’s always looking for the most efficient route to take because I have grown up understanding that there’s no time to waste, though every other kind of waste is pretty A-OK.
Poetry was not for me until it was, until I gave it a chance to change my mind and instead it stirred something else entirely.
A new adventure starts today. A seed-planting, head-spinning, world-building kind of adventure. And you’re invited.
Ready to wake up and choose violets with me?
In the best and worst of times, where information spins like the dirty laundry of our machines amidst “guns, germs, and steel”, attention is both your enemy and your escape.
You are here: a not-safe-for-life spot made up of endless scroll-fests on social media, dark winding paths lit with tick-tocking time bombs. Every crossroad you meet there’s a signpost that says “Next” or “Exit”, and though you wish you were out of the maze, no longer playing the game, you always choose “Next”. The algorithm doesn’t just own you; you are the algorithm.
This path is carefully engineered to place all the right things in all the right places to keep you going. The longer you stay the less power you have, your body carried by the will of the constantly shaking ground beneath you, your legs only an illusion.
The invisible and silent, noisy and omnipresent violence of the battle for attention reaps rewards while the real world dims before you in the periphery of the assault of the shiny objects: sale! Elon! recession! bills! mortgage crisis! click me! and me! and me! Nay to the artist formerly known as Ye.
In a different time, none of these things would’ve had anything to do with you. You wouldn’t have known. They wouldn’t have grown to echoes and not just voices. Now they do. As if you didn’t have enough to worry about. You are given the illusion of all-knowingness, but that’s just a curse given to you by the manmade gods (yes, manmade—just giving blame where blame is due) who keep our faces, hold our voices, save our souls as ledgers.
But what’s this… A few words on a page? Or on a screen, on a wall, in your dreams—pick your delivery method.
Instead of “Next”, you stop and pay attention to right here, not just where you are, but everything around you.
A strange thing happens. Through the shock of a few intentionally displaced words the way a chef works with ingredients and a designer works with fabric and a perfumer works with molecules, you start to see things as they really are, full of light and shadow, joy and terror, ecstasy and sorrow—your senses a guide, language a tool.
This is the potent power of poetry, a magic mirror showing you truths through the filter of beauty, a spectrum of beauty made of common kinds and rare kinds, all kinds a filter not for changing your face or hiding your flaws but for getting the gears of your imagination going again.
Attention is the only antidote to modern content machine, today’s weapon of mass distraction—which is conveniently challenging because attention is also the weapon. But you know, as they say, fight fire with fire.
You use it and the path unravels and unwinds. You realize that is just an illusion too. Every goal and plight, every KPI and every invented magic trick and every bit of solid ground along with it.
Instead, before you is the truth: you’re in an open field. What do you see/hear/taste/smell/feel?
Welcome to Violets, an adventure disguised as a newsletter curated by me, Ana Wang. I’m a fashion designer-by-training and commercial writer-by-trade, gifted and cursed in the art and business of making gateways to the things I’m enthused by. So far, I’ve applied this to fashion, starting companies, and coding, making the rounds with some wrong turns into mazes that ended in some accolades but mostly failures.
Year after year, as I explored and pushed my ability to get people excited about things that create possibilities (“possibility-expanding”, my unspoken niche), I eventually became disheartened by my inability to stick to one thing until I found the one thing to rule them all: the greatest problem of all time. And that is lack of time, or more accurately, displaced and stolen attention disguised as lack of time.
Faced with five deaths in three years (one just an emotional one, the rest whole and bodily deaths), it seemed so clear: we can only clear death for a while. It’s always just around the corner. While we rush and squander, time slips away even faster, our anxieties building as we scramble to make life happen while the only inevitability is that we are in a long arc called death—or short, whichever way you want to look at it.
A study from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in an article that piqued my personal interest, “How to Feel Like You Have More Time”, showed that there is one thing that works, and it’s not time travel, but awe.
So, research is showing that wonder slows time, but more and more, attention is the precedent for wonder and attention is getting harder to come by. See the predicament?
As a writer, I’ve been thinking lately about the common adage, the pen is mightier than the sword. But like, how many deaths by sword happen nowadays, anyway? And pens haven’t been the choice writing tool for years. I try to keep up with all the ways the world is changing, so I’d like to propose a rewrite: The poem is mightier than the deep and endless shouting void of the modern content machine.
Enter my pitch. (How very anti-romantic of me.)
But yes, it needs to be a pitch because you need to know poetry is just as potent as any capitalist mechanism to get you to buy into things you don’t want. And it seems that I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a secret: poetry can give you what you really want. Don’t believe me? I dare you to try it. What have you got to lose? Another 2.5 hours you’d be spending on social media today, tomorrow, and the next day—forever?
If you’re ready to feel more in control of your time, join me on a twice weekly journey into the wonderful world of poetry amidst the landscape of reality TV, TikTok, tech companies that rule the world, and the tyranny of mass distraction. This is where I live, and don’t get me wrong, I both love it and hate it, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be but I know the time I’ve spent with poetry takes me out of that machine, if only for a brief blip in time.
Every Sunday, I will curate and share a poetry collection that will probably be different from the poems you remember having to recite in school, written by a broader spectrum of people. (The queue is already building and I can’t wait to share.) But, wait! Oh yes, there’s more. Once a season, I will explore poetry in practice. I’ll share a poem I’ve written, a weekly note on writing, wonder, and creativity, along with various other things: polls, links, textures, sights, sounds, and more. A seasonal wonder pack.
Slowing time is not the aim of this adventure because that’s a false premise. (I’ve embraced the poetic but kept my pragmatism.) You can only change your experience of time, the relative feeling of joy compared to the terrifying impending feeling of doom. The destination? Nowhere. This is all about the journey, paying attention, and planting seeds for more journeys and more attention—that’s all we have for now, anyway.
So give the plain truth of life a bit of necessary and real dressing. Give it all the oomph, texture, love in the world. Call it magic or whatever. It’s just real life, all the tiny wonderful things and broken days rolled into one. As I like to say now, when in doubt all you need is love, shocks, and laughter. (Credit for that one goes to Spencer—Lady, the film version starring Kristen Stewart, not Pratt, the Hills version.)
Violets is not (just) for writers nor even readers. It’s for everyone but especially beginners, skeptics, and optimists. Well, it’s probably not for poetry experts because I’ve read some of you and we already disagree on some fundamental things. Like poetry isn’t meant to have any use.
In the best and worst of times, the power of attention is as good a use as any fleeting and false invented utility.
But who am I to say, I just use words to sell things for a living.
Start here for poetry recommendations, prompts, and notes from me. The adventure begins now.
You might like Violets if:
You’re pretty sure poetry is “not for me” but you read all the way down this far.
You want to like poetry but you don’t know where to look, how to find it. You’ve tried before, it got you to Poe and Plath but you wanted something you could relate to. You heard about Rupi, but you wanted more.
You believe imagination is more important than knowledge, and want to know that this is true, not just imagine that it is. (That’s two points for Einstein.)
You are simultaneously bored out of your mind and glued to your screen, in constant overwhelm and in stasis, wondering: Is there anything else out there?