Of Princesses and Peas
To be a poet is to be dissatisfied. To write poetry is to live always with
the knowledge that we haven't caught it-haven't
caught the ring, the sound, the resound or depth of what we are feeling
but it is the struggle itself, the writing itself, that wrings beauty
from places inside that a moment before had no expression. We drape
ghosts and make them visible. Perhaps with a broad brush, perhaps with
the finger-painted, hasty joy of children, but as poets we strive always
to give words to those things that haven't any.
We paint with wind and water, we sculpt breath, knowing it will change
as steam fades on our bathroom mirrors. Almost as we're daubing
in a shape, it recreates itself in some new way so that the image captured
is but is only a momentary glimpse and we will always be dissatisfied.
And that is good. A poem is never really finished.
Walt Whitman, through the many re-printings of Leaves of Grass, continued
frantically to make changes. Rearranging, rewriting, scrawling margin
notes for his publisher, he was never content with its final outcome.
Even in joy, even in the robustness of a Whitmanesque life, there is
the awareness of the shifts in perception because we write with pens
of pure desire and wrestle ghosts, asking they stay still-for
just a minute.
To write a poem is to try to freeze what is in constant movement: the
tides of human emotion or the seasons rushing by, even stillness itself
has myriad responses. The task we set for ourselves is to build sandcastles
that the next tide will wash away. It is the very devil's task.
Trying to grab a portion of the Mobius strip, but with every reach
the thing itself has changed. It is a continuum. Every time we lop off
a piece, stand back and listen to the rhythms or the proportions we've
created, we find that they're already gone, lost to the moment.
Yet, this only makes us more determined to try it again and again.
Writing poetry is addictive. It becomes a twin, living life alongside,
or inside of us. Sometimes we argue -mostly we argue. Shall the
line be this length? How best to weave the assonance, the consonance,
or even the rhyme (for those who still attempt forms that so often sound
like piano exercises instead of full concertos). There are as many choices
as there are flips in the psyche within the course of a minute. It is
an impossible task, yet if it claims us as its laborer we will not escape
it and our lives will be a series of second guesses. Live with it. We'll
never be comfortable, but neither would we have it any other way.
Poets give faces to joy, grief, aging, and even the scary specter of
death itself. We must make friends with our discontent, knowing we are
being honed each time, each poem. We are the most restless of our breed,
and the luckiest. We want to tread air, yet be remembered, and only
we could live with such a paradox delightedly.