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Page 39

A critic says -- well, it's less what he says
than how: That presumed certainty that
your words have been weighed in the only balance
there is and found wanting. It's not only
that a verdict has been rendered (whether
harsh or gentle); it's that now the poet
has the idea that a verdict CAN be rendered,
and that such a verdict is the aim of a poem,

that a poem is not a communication,
but a case to be submitted to a court,
where it will receive a final verdict
from a critic or some vague final reckoning
with time.

Every day a man walks to work, saying "hello"
to people he recognizes. They smile, say "hi,
how's it going?" One day he says "hello"
to someone who looks away or to an old friend
who says, "Go to hell," then walks quickly
away. Our helloer never learns why. He becomes
careful about saying hello. Each time he says it,
he braces himself, awaiting a verdict
from the blank face that has not yet found
its smile. And now the poet, facing the blank page,
thinks of something to say, and before he can
write it down, the blank page stares at him,
about to render a verdict.

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