Poetry’s Mythology

Every morning I begin the day with a book of poems open at the breakfast table. I read a poem, perhaps two. I think about the poetry. I often make notes in my journal. The reading of the poem informs my day, adds brightness to my step, creates shades of feeling that formerly had been unavailable to me. In many cases, I remember lines, whole passages, that float in my head all day — snatches of song, as it were. I firmly believe my life would be infinitely poorer without poetry, its music, its deep wisdom.

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I didn’t know where to start in responding to this. It’s been a long time since I’ve read an essay about poetry so flagrantly couched in privilege while wearing such privilege on its sleeve, as if it belonged there.

Mr. Parini cultivates a portrait of himself as, one might say, someone unfettered by the overall demands of what it means to be a poet who, you know, works. Who has a family, a house, a life, who does the dishes and has to walk the dog and such. Who might not have time to eat a square breakfast before running to the train to get to a job where there are few moments of pause, if any. And who then arrives back home near or after dark, hungry, beleaguered, thinking of poetry only as a last resort and, even then, reluctantly.

And too, I think there’s masturbatory aspect of criticism here wherein poetry begets poetry. That one must lead a life steeped in verse in order to produce it. (I half-agree.) I just don’t understand why poetry consider poetry outside of other forms of literature, or music, or art. Why can’t we replace “poetry” here with “rock music”? Or, that my fervent television viewing habits, involving Lost, reality shows, and Buffy can’t be considered foundational materials for a quirky little chapbook like The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon?

I suppose I’m saying my fear is that living along the lines outlined in Parini’s essay would lead many poets down familiar paths toward familiar poems and poetics, in a way that risks little and cashes in frequently.

But isn’t it more fun to sit quietly in the dark, wondering what else is in the room with you–and more importantly, which of you will strike first?

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