As I’m away studying Shakespeare, over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reprising posts from my old blog…
Edith Sitwell called poetry, “The deification of reality” and when someone wears the title “Poet,” maybe that’s what I expect—a secular priest, a shaman, or at the very least a pretty damn good professional magician.
I have the poems I wrote in junior high and high school. They are truly horrible, but their tone is uniformly reverent, as if every time I wrote I thought, this time, I might stumble on truth, the last statement, an incantation to open a world of new awareness.
Later when I studied how to write poetry, I still thought about writing THE poem and making that mythical leap closer to universal value….and publication…and fame.
I think differently now. H. L. Mencken said, “A poet more than thirty years old is an overgrown child.” I understand Mencken’s point of view, but I haven’t a child’s idealism or belief anymore. On one level, writing a poem is, for me, an action. When it goes well, it’s an immensely satisfying action. But I don’t expect to meet God in seven dimensions or hear Him or Her in nineteen-part harmony anymore. I never have met Him or Her…or, for that matter, discovered that what we call “God” is anything anyone can “meet,” really.
When I write poems now, I assemble words as best I can, hoping for a little Guidance greater than simple technical decision making. No ecstasy. No prophecy. Just good fortune.
In his 1902 book Varieties of Religious Experience, William James argued a truth’s worth exists independently from its origin. He said, whether a religious leader’s revelation came from schizophrenia, from moldy wheat, or from an actual visit from God on a goodwill tour, the origin has no bearing on the revelation’s value. I’ve concluded poems don’t have to arise from epiphanies—maybe rapture needn’t be accompanied by parting clouds or soaring music.
And I like writing poetry a little more now that I’m not trying to find God.
One of my friends tells me that, when he paints, the emotion of the moment makes its way into the work unconsciously, that the fabric of that moment is the fabric of the piece he’s created—directly, without his assuring it, without his needing to. Often I think that might be good enough for poetry too.
I only get hung up again when I consider what my lowered expectations mean about calling myself a “poet.” If you expect nothing more than a poem, any poem, anyone can be a poet. If poetry slips from its exalted place and becomes a thing I do, I am a poet… of a lesser sort. On one hand, accepting the name might be proof of an unforced, uninflated act. On the other hand, it might be settling for the distant suburbs of Parnassus.
Me, a Poet? I’m still not sure.
I write poetry. Why say more than that?