I started this blog to correspond with my sabbatical, which began officially in January and ended when I taught my first class in September. It was a rough few days the first week, and I’m still not altogether used to the daily responsibilities of an associate professor of English at a community college. Sometimes I look back on the pace I was keeping even a year ago, a log marked by scores of emails and flyers and the like, and wonder, Who is that man? My pace has slowed considerably. My mind has slowed considerably. I have slowed considerably. And this is all for the good. One can’t finish a marathon if one runs as if one is running a 50 meter sprint. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind, especially when I see my briefcase bulging with still-to-mark essays and stories, a little of that mania that characterized the first leg of my career.
I said I started this blog, but I ought to have said restarted, and I might have said revised it. The idea of writing this time was to see what I could see about my attitudes toward poetry. I have reread the posts now and again, and see that much of what I have said attempts to address the uses of poetry. And I realize, too, that despite this struggle and the seeming conclusions I nearly come to, I don’t really know what I think. I have hoped that poetry could change me. I have staked my sanity and my career on the idea that living the life of a poet would, in the end, be a better life than one lived as anything else. And the advantage of being a poet, of course, is that one can be anything else and a poet at the same time. My first ideas about being a poet included not teaching Hamlet but pumping gas. I might not have fared much worse than I have either. And yet knowing what I know about my temperament, it is hard to imagine me doing anything else. I believe I am unqualified to do anything but teach.
But perhaps all professors of English think this. And who would blame them? For one suited to the work, it can hardly be called work. There are trials, but no more and certainly many less than other professions. And poetry professors enjoy pleasures more rigorous scholars don’t. Poets can, when they choose, wear the mask of the clown, for instance. And I don’t mean they get to be funny. Even a Marxist might be funny accidentally. I mean the poet gets to be self-deprecating. The poet-professor who fails to do this fails in more than one way. First, he fails his students, and second, he fails himself. I have come to believe that I am better at doing what it is I have been hired to do – and this is nothing short of changing the students who enter my classroom from the things they were to the things they might be – if I don’t confuse who I pretend to be with the person I am truly. The same can be said of writing poetry, and to a lesser extent prose.
There is a part of me fulfilled by writing poetry, just as a part of me is fulfilled by being a husband or a son or a brother or a friend. It is this part of me that doesn’t struggle with what it means to write poetry, to be a poet. It is this part of me, who climbs the shingles of my roof at night and gazes out into the all of everything and, indeed, he understands. It is the friend, the brother, the husband who is unsatisfied by all this climbing. It is he who wants poetry to do more than it can do. It is he, who thought a sabbatical would change him, would make him new, and therefore it is he and he and he, who is disappointed at what he has found. A brother can only be satisfied by brotherhood, a husband by love. But a poet is satisfied by poetry.
I had hoped that this sabbatical would explain to me what the seven years before couldn’t, and that is, Why do I write poetry? I had begun to ask this question seriously when I started my full-time position. I have, in the meantime, come to many conclusions, and some have even sounded the same as former conclusions and so passed for the truth. But the truest thing I can say is this. A part of me is satisfied by poetry. And the rest, when the rest are silent, might listen to that and be satisfied, too. Then, they might get back to the business of being a teacher, a husband, a brother, a son. They might even get back to the business of loving this world as it is, without amendment; might even seek less and less to be understood and more and more to understand, as the good saint says. He was a poet, too, after all, and a saint. And when his love for God informed his urge to sing what he uttered was poetry. If his urge to sing ever informed his love for God that has been forgotten and rightly so.