From the Mad Mind
of Anthony Watkins
You Looking at Me?
As you might guess, even though I like free verse the best, I love all poetry, even the poems I don’t like. That is to say, I love the whole concept of people writing their innermost thoughts and being willing to share them with others.
As an older white man, from the deep south of the USA, I have often both enjoyed and appreciated what I call oppression/liberation poetry. It would be fair to say I have gained some enlightenment from reading it.
Sometimes, when I read a white woman like Sylvia Plath, Carolyn Kizer, or especially Anne Sexton, I get a sense that I am being given a peek at a world I generally miss due to my entitlement. Same goes for Maya Angelou, other persons of color, and I love the passion of young people and the wisdom of the old people who are fighting, who have always been fighting, for their own particular justice.
Of course, I love many poems by men, women, black, white, brown, African, Asian, European, and from both North and South America that are not about liberation or oppression but are about watching a bird or brushing their teeth or about burying their mother.
The thing is, sometimes I feel like I am reading a good poem, in fact, sometimes I know I am reading a critically acclaimed poem by a much-respected poet, and yet I feel lost and disconnected. My first reaction when I read a poem like that is to think it isn’t a good poem, but often I look a little harder, especially if it is by a “name” poet, but even if it isn’t. That is when I see the poem is missing its mark with me because it wasn’t written for me.
I don’t know if this is human nature or just a silly old man’s sense of entitlement, to think every poem ought to appeal to me to be a good poem—ought to be custom-made to suit my style and outlook. My point is that maybe all of us should give a poem space, even if we don’t like it, even if we don’t connect with it.
Maybe everyone else already has figured this out. But if not, let me suggest that we respect poems that are not intended for our eyes and ears, and maybe read them anyway, and maybe, just maybe, they are more for us than we think. Sometimes the cure is bitter medicine.