Having written poetry for more than 40 years (beginning in grammar school), I find I understand less about how it works than I used to think I did. I know that one must be prepared for the time when one will compose, and that such preparation requires hard labor and study, but the actual coming of the poems seems to me now to have more to do with pressure, stress, change than with anything willed or, in conventional terms, 'inspired.' I wish I could say that I am always writing, as I once was and could have said, but now -- with too many jobs and the exigencies of raising a family -- I do not write every day; even when the first murmurs of a poem suggest themselves, I am not always glad to hear it. I wonder if I'll have the concentration, the time...But the image I am increasingly convinced represents how poetry comes is the same way earthquakes (and ultimately mountains) do: urgent fire bursting into air, with the resulting alterations in the landscape -- our lives composed of something like tectonic plates and the poetry emerging from the roiling at the edges of the component parts of our lives. Something like that. The poetry coming from down deep in the disturbance, coming up out of necessity and in chaos. And, of course, the poet him or herself waiting in the trembling, already shaped to give form to what will emerge form the darkness.
Anyway, that's my way of thinking about poetry for the moment. I am struck too by the realization that the poetry usually comes ahead of full consciousness that great and rapid changes are taking place, or even that there is a disturbance. I am grateful to the NEA for the time the grant bought me, and for that touch of validation, in such short supply here in New Orleans.
New Orleans Elegies
The shape of the loss is fretted but not mapped.
You cannot say Elenore and have it so, nor Lindell.
But pluck the umpromising chord, pull back
the hammer, pour the residual face, listen:
an ancient bridge emerges from your heart
across whose stone logs a loud commerce rattles
day and night, of earnings lost in sport,
lives waged against a broken treadle,
the sunny loneliness of the next drink,
a picturesque adhesion at the core
where all the voices versed against the blank
look crap out and once more you've gone to war.
All work is not the same as the work of love
when the mind changes, as it does now,
looking up in a room suddenly not quiet -
the trill of comprehension from her page
a sound like madness - reasonable, familiar -
close enough to mine but still not touching.
But love is shy work, the clapper in a bell.
I should be scared to talk, with what I've said.
Does love press an image in her page,
this desiccated, wakeful old celebrant
of the invisible, breaking the law
with her mind that levels language,
with her eyes that cannot light anywhere,
with her hands that rip god out of your throat -
why would her meekness not terrify me?
Once or twice in the song I swear I was sleeping,
my head hanging from a single thread that no longer
looked much like luck or the formula for dreams,
the shy end of her toward me, a festival, a borrowing.
Once in the clear of the melody one loses the key,
it is impossible to lock the music up, a theme strikes
that this one is still helpless to close or open
although there seems to be no trick to it, no joke.
Always it yields in time to be forgotten.
I wish once we could sleep like two horses
standing side by side after a twilight feed,
eyes lashed for the night, forelegs atremble,
but just barely, with being so strongly still.