June 16, 2011

The Task of the Poet

In an interview in the Paris Review, Adrienne Rich said, "I don’t know that poetry itself has any universal or unique obligations. It’s a great ongoing human activity of making, over different times, under different circumstances. For a poet, in this time we call “ours,” in this whirlpool of disinformation and manufactured distraction? Not to fake it, not to practice a false innocence, not pull the shades down on what’s happening next door or across town. Not to settle for shallow formulas or lazy nihilism or stifling self-reference." 

One of the best American essays is Adrienne Rich's "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying." In it, she writes "When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her." Let this be our task as poets. 

I think the task of the poet is to remain true to one's own experience. The poem comes from the body; the body should be reflected in the poem.  The poem comes out of a particular place in the world.   The poet needs to be cognizant of the landscape and also her own position and perspective within it.  

A good poet is aware of the underground of the subject and form of her work.This could be the history, context, connections, and language.  

A good poet is open to surprise. Is intuitive.  Sometimes in the writing of the poem, an accident of language, a juxtaposition of image, an error brings a startling insight.   In the practice of poetry, one strives for a deliberating openness.   

A collection of a poet's work reveals vision: a perspective, motivation, goal.  A poet's work provides a landscape and a story, different for each poet, and a language that reaches beyond the individual toward the community or the divine or the one lone reader somewhere in the future, paging through a book, wanting the heart, or a piercing light into the center of life.  

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