Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What Is a Poem?

My wife, my sister-in-law, and my sister-in-law's children sleep scattered throughout my house. Dixie, the Jack Russell, barks into the distance at an unseen threat and grabs a branch from a peony bush in her muzzle, shaking it in a show of strength. Archie trots around the edge of the yard, looking to join the fray.

A firework pops in a distant yard. The neighbor's dog barks in response.

My dogs, it seems, weary. They need water. A nap. A woman walking a dog I've never seen strolls down the right-of-way that edges my yard. My dogs explode in growls and barks with as much fury as the finale of a fireworks display.

The robins chirp above the commotion of Archie's instinctual anger.

We all, I do not doubt, have a different notion of what is happening. Even my dogs, in their submissiveness, will never understand the semi-pastoral way in which I've imagined this morning. But you—who may be thousands of miles away and separated from this time by hours, days, months, or more—can.

Such is the miracle of language.

Yesterday, I took my mother to the bus station so that she could return to her home in Dallas. I waited with her for the bus to load. Behind us, an Amish (or perhaps Mennonite) family waited to board.

I've road more bussess than I'd care to admit, but I'd never seen an entire family of Amish, only young men exploring the wider world. Yesterday, I saw three generations of the same family, waiting for the bus. I'd like, of course, to know their story. If this were a poem or a story, perhaps I'd invent one after spending a few hours research ensuring that my notions where feasible. However, such speculation is beyond my purposes here.

A grandmother, I think, held an infant girl. The infant's tuft of bright blonde hair was tucked beneath a tiny black bonnet. Nestled in the crook of her grandmother's arms, she looked about with delicate blue eyes. Her dress, no larger than the slipcover for a throw pillow, was a dark, vibrant blue, unlike anything I'd ever seen. Her sisters, standing beside their luggage, looked around as if trying to take in everything, which for me must have seemed utterly banal: the neon, the video games, the people and their vast variety of skin tones, pre-manufactured t-shirts and jeans, and inflections of language. They too wore dresses that seemed to me more vivid than the most complex graphics on the latest video game. One wore a green dress, well-pressed, that might let you think you could smell pine needles rustling in a light breeze. One wore a tan dress, and despite the way we typically think of tan, I suspect that there are artists who might cut off their ear for the chance to replicate that color on canvas.

They wore, in short, familiar colors that I'd never seen.

In college, I picked up a poster from the AWP conference in Pittsburgh. I think it was an advertisement for a press, perhaps Copper Canyon or Coffee House . Poetry: The Unsayable Said.

For a long time, that seemed a fitting description of poetry to me. I hung the poster at home and in an office where I worked. I stared at it, thinking.

At this point, I could posit any number of definitions about what a poem is. But, I've spent more than a year telling you, in one way or another, how I define a poem, the process of creating one, and how to support that process. You should see, I hope, that such definitions evolve (or perhaps devolve) constantly. More, I think such definitions are deeply personal. My notion of what a poem is and what a poem should do, may not agree with your definition. Now, tell me yours. Or better, show me.

I wish you the best of luck. I hope that someday you will write poems that, like those of Robert Creeley, a young student will encounter one day and only to muse about the nature of poetry, and much, much more. I hope that your desire to write makes you a better reader. I hope that, in poetry, you can find a few moments as meaningful and fulfilling to you as a bit of affection from a pair of tiny dogs is to me.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really did enjoy your poems, they certainly are a cut above what you find in the various "qauality" journals.
I once lived in Cincinnati, I drove around Columbia Parkway and little red wild apples in summer blew off covering the road in places. There was a bridge that crossed a ravine on which hundreds of kids would sit, and there was also gloomy Hide Park, and spooky concrete Alt Park where they held dances under the stars, and where it seems all the people had lived out secret imprisoned lives and had escaped into death.
Well, I especially like the What Is a Poem?
Now I know. J.N.Krause

7:06 PM  

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