More often than not, when I tell people I am a poet, in those rare moments when I leave The Womb and actually interact with strangers, I am greeted with a polite smile, which is another way of saying, “I don’t read poetry and I have no idea why you would write it because nobody reads poetry, didn’t you get the memo?” I want to tell them that it doesn’t have to be that way, but they are right, and I am oddly fine with it.
I look at pop stars and politicians, I look at social media and our endless news cycle, and I see no place for poetry. I see louderfastermoremoremore, none of which has anything to do with where poetry comes from, which in my experience has everything to do with quieterslowerlesslessless. So how do you move forward when you understand that your life’s work is essentially a culturally dead art form?
I can’t speak for other poets, far more ambitious than I, some of whom I know are still hustling to be read, to be relevant, to (god forbid) make a living through their writing. But for me, the fact that no one is looking, that no one cares, is a tremendous relief in a world where the phrase “this is why we can’t have nice things” has entered the smarmy vernacular. I have very little faith that the culture as it stands can bear the weight of what poetry is capable of.
I am writing, first and foremost, for myself. Because I have to. Because it is a vocation. It is spiritual practice. Secondarily, and it is a distant second, I am writing to share what I see / hear / feel with a select group of people who have communicated with me that my poems have affected them. Their letters, which arrive out of the blue every so often, are always a surprise. They renew my faith in individual people to share genuine moments of grace with each other.
Emily understood what I am talking about, as did Blake in his own way. Writing for eternity, not posterity. Giving yourself permission to be utterly yourself, to have no influences other than every breath of human (and non-human) existence. To reject all poses and schools of thought / writing. Understanding that poetry is without question one of the most transformative art forms, and that the best of it is waiting out there, patiently, for the right soul to find it.
I meant to write about artifice, about personae & parallel selves, but this happened instead. Hopefully next month. Until then, may quieterslowerlesslessless visit you, even if only for a few moments. You might be surprised how much you like it …