Poets! Whatever are they good for?

Every time I start to wonder why I continue to subscribe to Poetry, they publish something like this:

“I live with a poet. Her boyfriend before me was also a poet, and published a book called Crane, in which all the poems are about her. She looks like a crane—the bird kind. I often find her standing on one leg, leaning against our bookshelves, very still, staring into a book as if for a fish to snatch out. Crane upset her. I remember her tearing up one of the poems, shouting, ‘Want to publish a book: write poems about your goddamn miserable sex life!’ The poem, titled ‘Interdiction,’ was about him having a real hankering for all those things in the Bible you’re not allowed to eat—particularly bivalves. What this has to do with The Colonel and Mrs. Whatsit, I can’t imagine.

“But then I’ve never understood poetry. You see, I’m a fiction writer. If my Poet ever appears in one of my books, she shall do so as a once-beautiful, but now tragically disfigured nun. We fiction writers are a different breed from poets—alert, happy, optimistic. If you want to find the fiction writer in a crowd, just pretend to throw a stick. He’ll be the one who looks around.”


“My Poet loves words in a way that I feel is quite unhealthy and unnatural. She owns a dictionary decades old and so large she uses a small buffet cart to wheel it around our apartment like some invalid relative. For true fiction writers, words are just a kind of filling for the plot. A novel is like one of those mock apple pies made with Ritz crackers and cinnamon—and anyone who claims he can tell the difference is a damn liar!”


“While I’m not sure if this is what my professor friend means by ‘the real thing,’ one thing I’ve learned from living with a poet is that a passionate antagonism with language is what defines them. As many alcoholics are said to be those who have a kind of allergy to alcohol, so a poet with language—compelled and ruined by it. The secret to a poet’s soul lies somewhere in the little cells of that dungeonish dictionary, in the slow languishing of those old, mad, forgotten words. It’s also in the very particular kind of art she—and every poet—seems to love. Joseph Cornell. I guarantee you will not find a single poet who doesn’t start rubbing herself against the furniture the minute you mention Cornell and his little boxes full of human residue, the pleasures of the miniature.

“One good thing, though, is that after we went to see the Cornell exhibit some years ago, I got the idea to give her, for her birthday, a tobacco box in which I’d glued lots of small objects—secret decoder rings, vintage bottle caps, my grandfather’s glass eye.”
My Poet, by Naeem Murr, Poetry, July/August 2007

Ah, how lucky for all of us that Poetry Magazine put “My Poet” online. This made me laugh. Out loud, yet. Go read the rest. You’ll be glad you did!


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