Those line breaks aren’t just higgelty piggelty crap, yunno?
Poets are the sculptors of our verbal life. They make the mundane hunks of language we throw around shimmer and dance and halt and sit and stay. They arrange and they carve and revise and then start all over.
They writhe and wrangle.
Poets mete it out and
They can sit in a
Slow, rolling boil
For a month at a time
And then a year.
The way poets paint a life, we can’t just bash through a paragraph or a page like it ain’t nothin’. It is. And so, at this time when the season brings us holiday mayhem, I’m honored to mull a cider, stud an orange with cloves and watch it bob around a cinnamon stick until the bubbles come. Then I leave the pot on the stove on a low-down blue flame whispering at a copper bottom. A hand carved wood ladle dips in and retrieves a glass of the cider for me. In my right hand I carry the mug and in the left fist I gather a throw blanket, an old one. I get situated and pluck a thin volume from the shelf. I turn off my phone.
I stop at all the line breaks.
I let my eyes spill down the page.
I remember to breathe.
Sometimes I read it all to the dog.
And on a good day,
It goes a little like this
On Being Asked ‘What Is Poetry?’
by Jill McDonough
I ask that a lot, ask a lot of students that. Whitman,
Dickinson, Dietz. There are hundreds of ways
to say you don’t know, most of them
pretty good. Anne Bradstreet, Anne Carson, Anne
Sexton, Annie Finch. Right now I teach Understanding
Literature. They didn’t Understand
that people still write Literature, that it’s alive. Bishop,
Pinsky, Lowell. It took me three weeks to make them
stop saying they don’t like poetry. No to Baudelaire.
Ditto John Clare, Gwendolyn Brooks. What the hell
are you talking about? Don’t like poetry. Don’t like food.
Vessels, buildings, days. Don’t like lumber, time.
Poetry: whatever we say it is. We’re
in charge. Homer, Akhmatova, Frost. I don’t know
art, but I know what I like. Here’s
what I like. Fresh chalk on my hands, marking stresses
on the board. a PLUM. a PURple FINCH: three
iambs. Hopkins, Herbert, Fred Marchant. Then reading
aloud from Alan Dugan who, I admit it, is dead. But not
much: the purple prick of that skunk cabbage is still
erect in its frost-thawing fart gas. Basho, Bronte, Keats.
Berryman, Ashbery, Yeats. Poetry means you get to say
whatever whatever you want. Your professor might close the class
with Dugan’s prick in her mouth. It’s poetry, so it’s
allowed. Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? Sure.
Also, They Fuck You Up, Your Mum and Dad. What is poetry?
What is poetry? I don’t know.