When I was a sophomore in college, I called my mother and told her that all I really wanted to do with my life was sit on a rock and write poetry. She laughed (nervously) and mentioned something vague about a stable income.* And, my memory is foggy on this now, but I think my father’s reaction involved waving a rather high credit card bill in my face and talking, with some amusement, about how to live on a meager poet’s salary.
Yet, what did they expect? Throughout my adolescent summers, Mama sent me to academic sleep-away camps; and, when Daddy was in an especially whimsical mood, he would recite poetry at the dinner table (Donne’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was one of his favorites). Of all people, my sister – I assure you, the most practical of the two of us – majored in music, with a concentration in composition, and her music absolutely soared. Even if they’d all tried – which they didn’t, not really – they couldn’t have talked me out of poetry.
I loved – and love – poetry for its rhythm and vibrance, its uncanny ability to distill big truths with perfect precision. When I am at my most creative, my writing always goes back to poetry. I fall into this habit not because I am such a spectacular poet, but because that’s just how words naturally fall out of my head. I am drawn to peculiar images – big trees with crazy limbs, for example, or a semi-professional wrestler who also cuts women’s hair for a living – and I like to write around the images, attaching tiny themes to make them work in a poem. Sometimes this works well in nonfiction, too, but it has to be done sparingly. Otherwise, it appears as though the author is preening her feathers.
Obviously, I’ve strayed a bit from poetry, but I recently picked up Garrison Keillor’s edition of Good Poems, and it has inspired me again. There are so many good poems to read – poems that will make you laugh like crazy, or want to cry, or make you see something in an entirely new way – and there are so many great rocks out there in the world to sit on. Best of all, poems can be taken in in a sitting, like a shot of whiskey, and just like that, your whole day is different.
I write this so that all the poets in the world with high credit card bills can make their interest payments every month. In today’s literary marketplace, to make it as a poet means that you have probably met an angel who let you try on his halo. It is more difficult (and, oddly, less financially rewarding) than trying to make it in any other genre.
There are poems in this world for everyone – not just for people who like Shakespearean sonnets or Wallace Stevens’ abstractions. For the faint of heart, clicking on The Writer’s Almanac site on my Blogroll would be a great place to start. The poetry aisle – yes, there is such a thing – at a local bookstore is for the braver souls among you; because I have received such helpful feedback from you all on my own writing recently (thank you!), I’m confident you’re up for the challenge.