How to be a poet all day long

“I am always writing a poem — every minute. There is always something going. But I don’t always have a paper and pencil in front of me. Then, when I get a pen and paper, I just start to write.”

 — H.

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Quote Unquote: Haunted

In preparation for Wednesday’s visit with poet Mark Doty, I read the following quote from a 1997 interview to my students: 

“I wait to be haunted, as it were, by an image … What happens is something I see registers on a deeper level than most experience does. A seal in the harbor, or the wreck of a fishing boat. I’ll feel this tug in my memory. Then I’ll begin describing it to try to capture it. …” 

“What does the poet mean when he says that he is haunted by an image?” I asked my class of teen moms. 

“I know,” one student said, “it’s like when a song gets stuck in your head. But instead of a song, something you saw gets stuck in your head and you can’t stop thinking about it.” 

And so another poet is born! 

Quote Unquote: Weightless Words

Photo by Aja Riggs

I remember once my sister, a visual artist whose studio was filled with canvases, tubes of paints, easels and old coffee cans filled with brushes and sticks of charcoal … in short things … once saying that she was envious of me as a writer: “All you need is a pencil and paper and you can create,” she said.

But I, in turn, have often been envious of the artists in my life. They get their hands dirty with color, they surround themselves with objects that possess texture, shape and depth. The tools of their trade have weight.

We poets and writers have only words. Ephemeral and elusive, they can not even hold their shape as they pass from one language to the next.

Samuel Johnson, the man who gave us the dictionary and the great grandfather of journaling had this to say about the tools of our trade:

“I am not yet so lost in lexicography, as to forget that words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven. Language is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas: I wish, however, that the instrument might be less apt to decay, and that signs might be permanent, like the things which they denote.”

 Me, too.

Quote Unquote

Poetry took a hit in politics yesterday. In response to Barack Obama’s flair for eloquent and passionate speeches, Hillary Clinton was quoted in the New York Times (Sunday, Jan. 20) as saying:

“You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.”

I agree with Clinton on many issues. But I beg to differ with her here.

Instead, I choose to imagine a country in which politicians campaign in poetry and govern in poetry.