"You can understand / Wanting to"

As we conclude the semester, my intro poetry students are writing about poetic structure, specifically the Greek choral ode structure deployed in many lyric poems. Included in our readings for this inquiry is Arthur Smith's new collection, The Fortunate Era. Today seemed to be the day that the readings fully clicked with the majority of my students, in large part because of our discussion of this poem:

Golden Gate

All the known jumpers off the Golden Gate
Chose to face the known Bay
And not the towering cold Pacific.
There are witnesses. You can understand

Wanting to, trembling out there
On braided cables, wind-whipped
Hundreds of feet in the air. From that height,
Water has the density of rock. It’s surprising

A handful have lived. Any one of them
Would tell you jumping is an act
You have time to reconsider.
In a heartbeat, they knew.


Arthur Smith
from The Fortunate Era












We also talked about the documentary film The Bridge. None of my students had ever seen the Golden Gate Bridge in person. Few had been to the Bay Area. All agreed: "You can understand / wanting to."