From the Mad Mind
of Anthony Watkins
WHAT IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF POETRY?
(and I have not forgotten that I 'owe you' Why Do I Collect Buffalo Nickels)
I recently was thinking about economics and how sick and sad modern American business models have become. In response I wrote this piece: WHAT IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF A BUSINESS?
Of course, our primary focus at Better than Starbucks is not to make money or even to comment on business, but to share and appreciate various genres of the best poetry we can find. Economic theory is never far beneath anything else we do, as eating and survival is important, even to the artist, but given that, our focus is more on the art than the economics of art. Given that poetry is not inclined to generate great wealth, that is just as well.
The reason I brought up my business article is it made me think about the widely assumed “facts” of poetry, and writing, in general.
What is the main purpose of poetry? That is a big apple to bite into, yet, if we do not have a sense of it, what are we doing? As a poet, poetry is breathing. I had a discussion with one of our other editors recently about what is poetry? How do I know if I have written a poem? If I am a poet, is everything I write a poem?
What makes me a poet?
I am a poet because I write poetry. How can I be sure what I write is poetry? Because I am a poet! This is so circular, it hurts my head, but beyond this circle, I find no true definitions.
The thing is, sometimes I write something down, more as a descriptive comment, then I look at it and wonder, if I formatted the piece of writing into a more traditional poetic form, does it become a poem? When I do reformat it, it usually seems as much like a poem as anything else I write.
As a lot of you know, I study Poetry at the University of Pennsylvania under the instruction of Al Filreis, maybe the best living teacher, not only of poetry, but more importantly, to me, philosophy. In his course, we focus on poetry and poets whose work is said to be self-aware. After 5 years of study, and over 50 years of writing poetry, I am still at a loss to understand how a poem can either be aware or unaware of itself.
The poet, obviously, knows he/she is writing a poem, or at least is writing, and maybe, like myself sometimes, hopes it is a poem. But can marks on paper or a computer screen or the sounds of the poet’s voice have any awareness?
Back to the original question: What is the first/main purpose of a poem? The writing of it, the reading of it, the existence of it?
As my wife pointed out when I asked her about why my poetry is not academic, I do not write my poem for the reader. At first, I wanted to dispute that. I replied that I loved for people to read my poetry, why else would I write it? She explained that she meant in the moment of writing, did I set out to send a specific message to my reader, did I give my reader ANY consideration when writing? I had to admit, in the moment of the poem, I have no interest in the reader, what the reader thinks, what my poem might mean, or any consideration except to commit my thoughts to paper/computer.
Does this make my poetry less self-aware? Does it mean, for me, the reader serves no purpose? No, to the last part, at least. I feel I must write, but then I must publish, with little concern as to what my writing might mean to the reader. So, let’s stipulate that some poets write self-aware poems, and some poets, like me, are totally lost inside the poem. In the act of writing a poem, I rarely am even aware there is a world outside of that poem, at that moment. But do we all write for some basic purpose? If so, what is it?
I believe I write to memorialize a moment, a thing, a person, and to a lesser extent, an idea (I say Believe, because I don't think anyone can really know why they do what they do, even if this is a whole column dedicated to a discussion on that topic). But if not for a reader, have a I not carved a stone and then buried it? To what end? Whether you are a poet, or a student of poetry, or a lover of poetry or multiples of these three, What do you see as the purpose of a poem?
The following are two examples of my recent writing (oddly, I don’t consider these monthly posts as writing), the first is a piece I wrote without poetic intent, then reformatted into a poem(?), the second is certainly a poem, that I gave no consideration to the reader while writing it, then a great deal of thought to the reaction of readers as to whether they would be amused, offended or just bored.
He drove a pale blue green car
the color of the water off the beach in Destin, Florida,
with fins that came up to my shoulder.
soft white leather seats
and a soft white top.
pushbutton starter, no keys
and a chest crushing three-foot skinny rimmed steering wheel
I wanted to be him
of course I wasn’t
and never will be
I’m the guy in the little green Fiat scrunched over.
Actually, I love the little green Fiat. I don’t think I’d like to drive
a big boat like that.
I just wanted to be the guy
who wanted to drive
a boat like that.
they don’t make them anymore. they do make cars without keys without metal keys,
but now it’s all electronic
high price higher “quality”
“Boy, if you’re going to do a crime don’t do her a scrawny crime make it big, make it showy!
How do you think I got this boat?”
Photo by Anders Wirten
and then for the one that concerned me, after the fact:
Lady Baby Jesus
has angel wings
only they aren’t angel wings,
but look like them,
have a little
good crown at the top
She is the “head bitch in charge.”
She pronounces all our guilt,
shakes her little wings
and flies away, muttering
“Jesus is love, don’t give me that shit!”
Lady Baby Jesus has a dirty mouth,
but who gonna tell her that?