Lately, I feel that I am finally waking fully to the poetic side of myself. I am valuing it more than I ever have. It is truly an excellent time to wake with a goldmine of material to be found electronically. So instead of retreating back to my shell as would be my normal convention I would like to say that in John Berryman, I feel a close affinity and connection. Maybe I just have a soft spot for brilliant self-centered drunks. That said, I think that the best things I’ve found online are an interview with him from The Paris Review and a reading that he did at Iowa which is posted on Youtube in 6 parts. I think that he had an amazing poetic voice, and he was an amazing and dedicated teacher of poets, fostering many of the pantheon of great American poets. I would have loved to meet the man.
I came to write poetry partly out of laziness and partly out of discomfort with writing a personal journal. My high school English teacher (a great teacher, and my favorite teacher of my high school experience) assigned us a journal where we were graded on our number of entries on any topic. I found that by writing haiku I could create one entry with a minimum of words. Over time it got to be that I sought this experience of describing, outside the general scope of myself, and I have practiced to this day.
Writing for me became a place, a meditation where I could connect with voices outside of myself. I suspect that in this way I came to poetry the way many do, by first expressing it to the best of their ability and letting it run through them and finding voices there. The best poets translate the spirit of those voices, the worst do not, but we are all capable of listening and hearing. Those ethereal voices are part of what we connect with in reading poetry.
Our early academic careers can do a great disservice by putting us off poetry. They put so much emphasis on interpretation, and posit that the value of poetry is in interpretation and that the entire poem comes from the person of the author. These classes didn’t teach me to listen the way I listened when I wrote. If I hadn’t been allowed to write first, getting an F for misinterpreting “Snake” by D.H. Lawrence may have chased me off.
The standard lament of the published poet may be that there are more people writing poetry than reading it. I feel that this is probably true, but not a great tragedy. I read poetry and I have a few subscriptions to journals. I feel I am a reasonable judge of what is good, of what I like, and where the two overlap, and I know that it has taken a lot of writing mediocre poetry to be able to read good poetry well. The act of sitting to write so many times has helped me to hear the voices.