It Must Root in the Heart

Poetry requires living a real life.  This means daily interaction with the real world with its real requirements, and its real people with their real demands.  It is poetry, which becomes a kind of hermitage, a walled-off garden, in which a soul can reflect upon the world’s goings-on, and her responsibilities to act or not act in response to these goings-on.  This isn’t to say that I’m not grateful for this spell of freedom.  But freedom is useful and desirable only in relation to its opposite, which is duty.

I am writing.  But the writing is less satisfying and has even become for me a kind of duty.  If I am not typing away or scribbling in my notebook or tending to one or more of the day’s chores, which I have set up for myself, then I begin to feel like it will all get away from me.  I suspect that much of this will work itself out over the course of the sabbatical, and that I will be able, like I used to be able, to find a kind of liberty, where there isn’t a counterbalance of duty, and all the gestures and motions of the day will be joyful.  This is the liberty of childhood, which we can repossess again, from time to time, in snatches.  But only in snatches.  Once the sabbatical ends, so too will this attitude toward the world.

It occurs to me now that I have entered into an agreement with my employers, which on the surface seems to benefit me, but in the end may not do either of us any good.  They, who possessed no portion of my imaginative life before, possess more of it than I would like now.  If poetry is to remain sacred to me, then it must remain apart from my duty to feed and clothe myself.  It ought to be in opposition to the desire for praise and respect.  It must root in the heart and branch out from there.  Its password must be love and not obligation.

This is the beginning of an argument for a poetry, which is quite different from the kind we’re used to seeing.  It would require no defense, like the ones which surface now and then and always seem like a dreadful compromise.  Its success would be evident.  Neither can this poetry require 1) a sequestering from the world, nor 2) a child’s attitude toward it, whether that be of fear or wonder.  It must be a poetry of adults for adults.  What else can sustain a man but the love of a woman, and what sustains a woman but the love of a man?  And the same is true for homosexual relationships and the closest friendships between all people.

There is a place for fear and wonder, but these must be experienced in the heart of an adult.  Poetry must fill the adult heart, which is big and powerful and healthy.  This love must be fully grown, or else it will always need defending.  Or else it will always need to compromise itself.  Think of the awful pull of our daily lives, and you will begin to see what I mean.  Poetry must be equally attractive, equally vital, equally relentless.  We must feel that without it, we couldn’t live.  This is a goal worth aiming for.  All other poetry would be too cute, weak or irrelevant.  It would require pretty arguments and generous grants.  No temple can be built on that.

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