About Poetry in Times Like These

(I tried to find the artist of this. If you know, please tell me.)

At an AWP conference in Chicago, I encountered a vast ballroom filled with writers and poets. They were listening to one poet, Marie Ponsot, whose talk, a sign by the door announced, was entitled "The Poet's Responsibility." When I had seen the title in the conference schedule I had shuddered. I wouldn't go, I told myself.

Why go when I know I don't fulfill my responsibility? Why go when I know it will leave me feeling utterly and profoundly irresponsible. Yet, I had stumbled into the very ballroom I'd vowed to avoid (those who go to AWP's perhaps know this form of disorientation). Rather than lambast us for not doing enough, though, Ms. Ponsot said this:

"A poet's job is to pay attention and to write good poems."

She repeated this.

"A poet's job is to pay attention and to write good poems."

I ponder it still because I paid very close attention to that. I still work on the "write good poems" part of the equation. Pay attention. 

Since going deaf, paying attention has become a constant action in my life. In order to lipread well, I must be focused and calm and attentive. If I stray for a moment, I lose the whole minute. Attention is a slight step from its French counterpart: attendre, to expect. 

So, how do we expect? How do we pay expectation? In lipreading, this is accomplished by guessing and intuiting, based on the facial expressions and the gestures of the person talking. Without sounds, I can tell.

For poetry, perhaps it is the same.
You attend to what is, and you expect what it is to come. In one swift gesture, one movement of the lips. That, too, is how to write a poem. To attend to the moment, and to allow that beautiful sense of the expectation without even knowing what it is.

And doing this again and again, constantly, persistently.

"A poet's job is to pay attention and to write good poems."


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