Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What is Wrong With Poetry(#2)

Jeff Shotts is an executive editor at Graywolf Press. I could go on and on about the fine list of authors he has worked with and the awards many of those books have won. However, Laurie Hertzel's Star Tribune piece on him does a better job.

I think of Jeff as a steward for poetry. He's a professional, certainly, but he also recognizes and values the impact poetry can have on all of us. Here is what he sent to me:


Since you asked, there is nothing wrong with poetry, with writing poetry, with reading poetry, with letting poetry move you, challenge you, influence you, define you, change you over and over.

We have always questioned poetry, what it does, what it can do, how it can lift up and suppress, how it makes shadows on the wall. It has provided our greatest forms of written or spoken expression and of written or spoken propaganda. It is so important, so vital to our collective imagination that we can ignore it and it hums on everywhere.

You can live a life without knowing who [enter name of poet] is. But it is impossible to live a life that isn’t asking the same questions that [enter name of poet] is.

Every person is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.
-Tomas TranstrĂ³mer

There is nothing wrong with poetry. It is a shame to have to write that sentence, and that our culture questions its art and artists with such skepticism, such suspicion. Questioning empowers the art. Skepticism and suspicion degrade it.

Listen. Do you hear that? The scrolling of social media. The ticker of news feeds. The permutations of search engines.

Poetry has been written for millennia, and spoken for longer. It survives whoever writes it or speaks it.

Every person is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

A note to my sons: Hello, boys! You are five and two as I write this, but if you look hard enough, you may find this years from now, somehow. If you do, I want you to know that I was always thinking of you. It must sometimes have seemed otherwise, a father’s face turned to a screen, or to a book, or to a poem. But I saw you too, and loved you, and love you still, in these places.

Poetry has such particular uses.

Sorry, what was the question? What is wrong with poetry?

There is nothing wrong with poetry. But it does what we do. Like love or fear.

Our world is a clamor. Our poetry is a clamor. They try, but no one can pull these sounds apart.

1 comment:

  1. "But I saw you too, and loved you, and love you still, in these places."

    The sentence above made me think about the poem we read this week by Jane Hirshfield called "First Light Edging Cirrus." (Sorry I couldn't figure out how to write the scientific notation for septillion and 10 to the 25th power.)

    10[to 25th power] molecules
    are enough
    to call woodthrush or apple.

    A hummingbird, fewer.
    A wristwatch: 10[to the 24th power].

    An alphabet's molecules,
    tasting of honey, iron, and salt,
    cannot be counted—

    as some strings, untouched,
    sound when a near one is speaking.

    As it was when love slipped inside us.
    It looked out face to face in every direction.

    Then it was inside the tree, the rock, the cloud.