C.D. Wright's book, Cooling Time is one of my touchstones. When another "poetry-is-dead-or-is-it-if-not-let's-poke-it-with-a-stick-to-see" article comes out, I run straight to this book. No apologetic mincing, no "pardon, 'scuse" from a poet clearing his or her throat to be heard above the noise and fray.
"Poetry is tribal, not material. As such it lights the fire and keeps watch over the flame. Believe me, this is where you get warm again. And naked."
Her claims are brave and tonic, prickly and daring in their faith in the word. I grew up on the incantation of John, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." Words can create worlds, define them, destroy them. Any number of totems, herbs, and candles remains stage settings until the magician utters the magic words. The dark turn? Control a language, control a people. So what are poets to do in light of all of this?
"Give physical, material life to the words. Record what you see. Rise, walk and make a day." I can think of no better charge.
When people ask when I started writing poetry, I have a hard time answering. I assume most people tinkered with writing poetry as children and teens. Some of us never stop.
I do remember when I discovered free verse. It felt much like the time I went back home and my father dug up a mass flower bulbs he'd found in an overgrown, abandoned "homeplace." The root-ridden clump was a confusion of dirt and dirt-colored bulbs and thready roots. But they smelled like a promise of something. I had to plant them to know what that something was.
A junior high teacher (I can remember two possible candidates for this, but the name is lost) took me and my best friend to a closet at our school. We could chose our pick of outdated textbooks and ruined library books before they were discarded. I pulled out Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle and Other Modern Verse. The copyright date was already three years before my birth, but opening the pages might as well have been stepping into a spaceship.
There was Ciardi and Roethke and Cummings and Ferlinghetti. Dorothy Parker's "Resume" was in there and after memorizing and reciting it in English class, I was sent to the counselor's office for a checking over. I read Langston Hughes' "Too Blue" and heard blues, felt them. Sometimes I would take the book up into a mimosa tree to read, drunk on the strange combination of words and the smell of the pink blossoms. In a way that can only be felt at 15, the poems felt like contraband, like a secret. Poetry, read and written, remained that way for many years.
What you see now is not new. Just wintered over, hidden by overgrowth, found again.
And the bulbs? Jonquils.
Poetry exists because the heart rebels against the suppression of its inner life. - Christina Viti