Why write poetry?

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.


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