the state of poetry

I’ve been dressed and returned to a state of undress. I write email sitting cross legged on my kitchen table, like some kind of 21st century Buddha (the fat one, not the serene one) motionless but for my thumbs flitting over the tablet keyboard.

I was talking about poems and why I stopped writing them. I try not to be dramatic about these things. It’s not interesting and there’s nothing to be done about it but me getting over it. Or not. Which is a fine option also. There are plenty of things to write and poetry isn’t as important to the world as we sometimes pretend.

Nothing is.

I feel awkward talking about poems now. Not poems I pick up and read at random. I can tell you all about the poem I read last night–its structure and resonance, the ways it connected, where it left me cold. I can’t talk about the poem you’re writing.

I can see what I might do with it, if I wrote poems (which I don’t anymore). That doesn’t help you. I could tell you what I think it ought to be, the same thing I think all poems ought to be. But that doesn’t help you either, because what matters is what you think it ought to be, the way you would make it.

The poems which stick to me have a sensuality. It’s not only what they say, the ideas, but the way they rub up against me while they say it. Some words feel more than others.

How to explain the weight of words.

I can’t. They have their own density. Either you know them heavy and pressing and suddenly weightless, or you don’t. A poem ought to feel like a rollercoaster ride. It’s alright if it makes you throw up. 

Memorable poems are the ones where the poet is honest. People are hardly ever honest. They don’t always lie, but they hide themselves. That’s a dishonesty too. Obfuscation. Couching self in diplomatic terms because we fear…. So many things. Disapproval, giving offense, the fallout of truth. How often we lie to spare another discomfort. A forgivable sin in life, but not in art. 

I can’t write honestly now. 

I was listening to an interview with Billy Collins, and the question came up, whether he’s writing about himself, or a character in the first person. His answer was he writes about a more interesting version of himself. He could, as easily, have said a truer version of himself, with no meaning lost. My Hafiz and your Bukowski, they have more in common than you’d think; you’ll never catch either of them lying on the page. We’re all the same as we’ve always been. 

If I ever start writing poems again, they won’t be what they used to be.