Last week I shared the questions that
would be addressed at the Experience Poetry! Panel in Vicksburg, Mississippi
. What a wonderful event! Thanks to all involved.
This week I'd like to do a little roundup of some
answers, including my own, as well as what some of you left in comments and
what my fellow panelists Julie Kane and Jack Bedell had to say.
1. Why is poetry
Our moderator, author Howard Bahr answered it this way: It just
is. Similarly, Myra said the
question was like asking, Why is breathing important?
Mary Lee said, poetry makes the imagination visible.Violet
mentioned how poetry addresses the
need to capture something in words, maybe squeeze a little meaning
out of an experience or sight or idea, make a craft object out of
My answer: Poetry
turns us into song. It sings us awake. It’s important because it’s
a way of living this one life we’ve been given. Poetry allows us to
swim in mystery. It’s a celebration, a way to praise. It begs us to
question everything and invites us to pay attention to every leaf and
acorn and ridge on the cap of an acorn. It helps us understand
ourselves better, our world better. It encourages compassion and
empathy. It challenges us with its heartbeat, What else? What
else? What else? And it's a very
personal thing. I wish for everyone the joy I find in poetry, though
I understand that many will find that joy elsewhere. And that's okay.
2. Where do poems
come from? Do you have a plan or a theory about what a poem should
do; where it should go?
I think the question
means to be, What inspires poems? In which case, I say everything and
As for the second
part of the question, I sort of brace against that “should.” I
don't know that every poem has a purpose or that it should have a
purpose. For me, I enjoy poems best that surprise me. I want to be
surprised. I want to read a poem and experience the unexpected
inevitable -- That surprising image or analogy that when you see it on
the page or hear it said, feels exactly true and right. AND I want to
know What stays with you latest and deepest.
also love what Tara said about poems bearing
witness to history. And
what Bridget said about how
comes from close observation filtered through the poet's soul.
what Margaret said about how in a poem
the deeply personal becomes universal. And
Linda's thoughts on
so many small & important moments, sometimes discoveries of
facts, & sometimes of feelings, but always connected to self. At
the event, Jack Bedell talked about how poetry should share our
human-ness and perhaps even help us to become better humans.
3. What are some
of the developments in contemporary American poetry?
I was interested to
hear Julie and Jack's take on this, especially as they both teach at
universities and experience a different corner of the Poetry Universe
than I do. Turns out, they were nearly as befuddled as me. (Well, not quite. These are some savvy poets!)
My thoughts are
this: There’s never been a better time to be a poet. There are more
publishing options than ever before, and the internet has created a
wonderfully supportive community. Poets have found each other. The
downside of this is that it’s far more competitive.
4. Should poetry
respond to the political/environmental challenges of our time, and if
Laura said, it
can, IF the poet feels those issues at a visceral issue but can also
engage his or her inner editor and transform them into true poetry.
I agree wholeheartedly, in that I am not much interested in reading a
rant. Mary Lee said, Poetry should respond with compassion,
originality, and imagination. (Again, that tip of the hat to
imagination! Love it!)
feeling is that poetry
should respond to everything and anything, whatever the poet feels inclined to address. As to the second part of
the question, my answer is simple: “in beauty.”
And now, my answers
for Kristina (and for Michelle, who challenged me to be as honest), who wrote me an adorable letter (that includes
Do you have one (a
I have two cats.
Maggie, who loves high places, and Bobby, who is too fat to get
himself to the high places, so he just stares and whines instead.
Do you like the zoo
like I do?
I sure do love the
zoo. I love seeing animals I'd never see otherwise. I love all the
work zoos do to preserve species. My favorite time to go is first
thing in the morning when all the critters are being fed.
What is I like to be
an author and why is it important?
Being an author is
awesome because I get to do the things I love best: play with words,
tell stories, and connect with the world, including readers like you!
It's important to me because it's the life I've chosen – and it's
the life I keep choosing every single day. I don't know that it's all that important in the grand scheme of things, but it is one way to communicate. And communication could be the most important thing we do on this earth.
Do you like writing
stories because I don't.
Most of the time I
like it. Some days I'm positively giddy about it. Others days when I'm
struggling, I wonder why I torture myself. Which is probably how
mixed-up most of us feel about many of the things we choose to fill
our lives with. :)