Recently I have been swaddling myself in quite the hefty amount of poetry, and publishing a fair amount of it, too. I had tagged myself as a creative non fiction writer, damn it, I never thought that I would enjoy poetry. Especially to this degree. I find, however, that recently it has been the static frequency on which my soul communicates.
But. That is not to say that I (the poet) am the speaker of these poems.
Many times I very much relate to the speaker, and the poetry reverberating around my body is truly the articulation of my own experience. But it is a mistake to believe that what you (the reader) hear is me. It is a mistake to think everything a writer crafts is an expression of his soul. Otherwise we would have Stephen King with a bunch of unmarked graves in the backyard, wouldn’t we?
The poet reaches towards a place unaccounted for within the human experience and paints a poem from there. It can be observing interactions from those around the poet. It can be inspiration from other works of literary merit. The “point” (controversial idea) is not always to “get it off my chest”. For me, I write and publish poetry to share and articulate and encapsulate a degree of the human experience.
I don’t write to unleash my inner turmoil upon the world (well, I do write some of those kinds of poems, but they go unpublished, thankfully). I write because I know how refreshing it is to read something that resonates truth within me. Something like Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider” or Tennyson’s “The Poet”.
Let me give you an itty bitty sample poem that I wrote a few days ago.
Feverish, my fingers grasp the blunted edge
Of the cliff and my legs swing of their own accord
Slipping against the loose gravel.
When I wrote that, I was sitting on the curb waiting for a train to come. It was hot and I was sticky and to get my mind off this endless waiting, I was staring at a little red ant trying to make his way in the world. I was thinking, how is she feeling right now, as she trudges along the curb, clinging to the side, sometimes slipping a bit? That curb must feel like a mountain to her, a cliff of sorts.
And so I wrote that. Just briefly. Etched it onto my Moleskine notebook as I waited.
If one were to couple the poet and the speaker, one might assume that Josie (poet) was having a huge, weighty struggle of some sorts. Some kind of looming death. Something deep and unleashing. But you see? I was simply waiting for a train to come.
If someone—the sort of someone with a weighty burden, a looming death deep and unleashing— were to read this and think, yes! YES! That’s how I feel! It doesn’t at all matter about me (the poet) or the ant (the inspiration) or the train (the situation). The only thing that matters is that the someone feels represented. Feels articulation. Feels some sort of relief from not knowing how to catalogue the experience inside.
But take “Afternoon Rain”:
This is my favorite kind of world—
The kind of world where I don’t have anywhere to be
But under this firm clay tile
Listening to the thick drops of rain
Plummet down upon the earth.
This world I’m under is cool and delicious
And smells like a candlelit dinner after a lonely afternoon.
I wrote that sitting underneath a clay tile while the world poured around me, thinking desperately thinking, my God, what a brilliant world! As you can see, if you watch the recording, in this instance the experience I am dwelling on comes from within me.
But but but, and LEAN IN CLOSE:
That still doesn’t mean I (the poet) am the speaker!
No, the speaker is the unassuming wisp that pours from my fingers. The speaker is what connects the reader to the poem, not the poet. The speaker takes on a life of it’s own and it has to in order to reach the reader. Perhaps what I’m trying to explain is that the soul of the poem is not the same as my soul.
You can absolutely hate me and still get something from my poetry, because it’s not me speaking to you. It’s something within the soul of the poem speaking to you, and something within you, too, speaking back. It’s not about me (the poet) or the ant (the inspiration) or the train (the situation) but about you (the reader, the soul, the life force).
And don’t be scared for me if I publish something intense. I could just be sitting on a curb somewhere.
Peace and blessings,