It’s Not About You, or Even Me

In a graduate class with Walt Litz on the Modern Long Poem, he said that there was an occasion which caused Wallace Stevens to write each of his poems, but that did not mean that Stevens wrote occasional poems.  Obviously, there is always some event, phrase, person, occasion which causes a poem to begin in the poet’s mind, but that does not mean that the poem is about that event, phrase, person or occasion. As an undergraduate in English, we were taught “New Criticism” (although, at least, at the University of Texas in the late 70’s, it was never taught as a named form of Criticism). It was frowned upon to bring in biographical information when writing essays about poetry. The text itself was enough to write about, outside information was unnecessary if not unwanted. When I write, there is also some initiating push, which sends me chasing the words to the end.  I rarely, if ever, know where I am going in a poem. One of the thrills of writing is the discovery of the poem as I write it. I don’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write a love poem” or “how about a sonnet today?” I just write and then find the heart of the poem as I fall into the flow of words.  Of course, the poem is my thinking, whether I am conscious of the thinking or not at the time of composing the poem; yet that does not mean my thinking is tied the concrete of my daily encounters with the world. For the most part my daily encounters with the world are sparks which ignite my thinking into the abstract which then cause me to try to recapture the process through the language event of the poem. Occasionally, I find a poem about something more than the occasion through this process, and my world is widened as a result.
(August 9, 2013)

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