|The Future of Literary Studies|
One day in workshop last fall Charles Wright looked around the room at the fourteen of us green writers he had gathered together a month or two before, a group of students now worn-down in the middle of the semester, showing up late to class with poems all too often not commented on. After reviewing our sorry lot he muttered, “Hey, I’m just trying to fill in the time between now and supper.” Being a young poet and therefore inevitably given to moments of melodrama and self-indulgence, I didn’t like hearing Charles Wright of all people talk about poetry like a day job. How could he speak so casually about his life’s work, his passion? How could he dismiss the mythic, the elevated, the formal so quietly?
I’ve carried Professor Wright’s statement in my pocket for several months now, and as I prepare to leave the nest of academia his words chafe less and less. For one, I’m starting to understand that poetry really does happen in our daily routine, even as our daily routine: I see Lisa Russ Spaar pumping gas into her old Suburban and writing a series on Schumann in her head while her kids gab inside the car. I think of Stephen Cushman just making his bed or going to church. I remember my mother, a woman who’s never written a poem, tirelessly pointing out nature’s lyricism to me. I’m not trying to sound simple or sentimental. I’m learning that, although my insatiable love of language keeps me devouring and reprocessing words, the poems themselves are merely bi-products of the true art, the art of living. Language may compel us, but the most difficult, subtle, and vital making occurs in our daily lives, in the way we treat each other, in a lover’s touch or our annual discovery of spring all over again and all at once. Our lives, like the best poems, are well crafted and reckless. With the making of poetry and life walks the happening—leaving gifts on our thresholds more potent than any line we intended to write. I thank my mentors at UVA for showing me that to teach the craft of poetry is to teach something about the art of living and that life itself is the most delicate and wild poem.
To see the summer sky
Is poetry though never in a book it lie—
True poems flee—
|TEI markup by John Unsworth|