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Page 23

Uncle Claudius was a naughty poet:
He killed the King by pouring poison
in his ear. I want to be a good poet.
Here's a workshop I can take:

"Can every line in your poem stand
alone in terms of language/intensity?"
What's this? Must I write lines to write
poems? If so, why stop at lines?
I want each word, each character,
each serif, each comma to stand alone
in terms of language/intensity. I want
the blankness surrounding the words
to stand alone in terms of language/intensity.

(But I hope these lines and words and
so on -- and even the whole poems --
won't get lonely, standing alone
out there being intense. Can't my poems
talk to each other, to you, lean on
each other just a little, like voices
in a conversation? Even blank pages
want other blank pages to play with.
At least, as a child, I found it easy
to think so.)

Here's a workshop that promises "to kindle
or rekindle the keen sense of observation
so crucial to poetry." Would it make me
keen enough to distinguish one blank page
from another? I'm not sure I can tell
one poem from another or a poem from a
blank page. Am I speaking to someone
other than I? (Worse -- is it I speaking?)

Note: I wrote this one after browsing through a bunch of descriptions of poetry workshops offered at my local writers' center. As satire, this is unfair – knocking over straw men, taking lines out of context. Brief descriptions of poetry are bound to seem glib or pretentious or just dull, I guess. However, the two chosen here do represent two of my own pet peeves: To stress language/intensity and poems "standing alone" seems to me not wrong, but a mis-emphasis that leads to neglect of the poem's belonging to the domain of live communication, people talking to one another. You can amp up (or camp up?) intensity and aesthetic tightness without achieving communication. On the other hand, if you communicate well, the intensity will be there.

As for"keen sense of observation", I don't doubt it's a good thing, but the stress on it as the end-all of poetry is a modern fad, no more basic than the 18th Century fad that rejected keen detailed observation in favor of witty abstract statement – as in Samuel Johnson's argument that it is not the job of a poet to "number the stripes of the tulip". (Of course, both moderns and Age-of-reasoners include fine examples of keen observation and resounding abstract statement. The proper study of mankind is a man with a mole shaped like North Carolina on the tip of his nose.)

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