Practice Makes Poetry

I’ve really been enjoying my Drunk on Poetry Month.

Because I like poetry. I really, really do. It’s not the way I think, not effortlessly–maybe there’s too much narrative to my thought, too little ability to take a snapshot of a moment, a feeling, right now–but reading it makes the way I think better. Reading it makes it easier to live a life that seems worthy of poetry, and supplies me with a hundred templates for how to start trying, even if I may never be an Audre Lourde.

I was talking with a friend about what it’s like to be a modern poet. What is the career path, these days? The only two goals of which I regularly see evidence are publication in the New Yorker and appointment as the Poet Laureate, and the latter can only be one person at a time. Where, in bookstores, even in the funky, niche, used bookstores I like to go to, are the collections of poetry by a single author?

An anecdote: I went to my local library branch at the beginning of the month to get some collections of poetry. Not the type of anthology you get for school–18th Century American Poets–but entire books of poems by one poet.

I found them crammed in a corner among the non-fiction, history, chosen “literature” that some authority somewhere decided should be canonized. Hidden, on a bottom shelf–thin volumes camouflaged as collected periodicals, maybe, their ostrich-heads buried in the sand, not daring to take up too much space.

Do they just not sell? I imagine so. And why? Poems are compact, crystallizations of time and emotion. They are (most often) easier to read than a chapter of dense prose. They used to be the vessels in which stories were delivered, steady barks sailing through wine-dark seas to deliver tales with a rhyme and a smile. What happened to that?

But then, you look at slam poetry, still a vital force in this country.

But then, you see rap music.

I guess the poetry is still there. Maybe the type that gets written down on paper won’t pay the bills, these days, maybe it’s inevitable that our poets have day jobs and teach and sweat out this economy with everyone else. But really, we couldn’t get away from it if we wanted to. It’s there in the music that we keep on our iPods for certain occasions, for times when we need the stillness or the adrenaline or the bittersweet melancholy of a particular song or even just of a couple of lyrics. It’s in the things that children say to us, children, who see the world through metaphors because they’re still figuring out how to comprehend it. It’s in those moments, whether or not we ever tell anyone those right words that we thought of, when the snow had finally covered the branches, and the world was only feathers.

Anyway. February or not, please do continue to send me favorite poems. I gain something from reading them. Aloud or silently. Which is good, for that is, I strongly suspect, what poems are for, regardless of how much we pay for them.


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