On reading with a poet
I'm reading with the poet Iris Litt at the Woodstock Poetry Society (6/9, at 2). Aside from the question on regional writing (still avoiding that one), I get asked whether or not I identify at all with poets. The question is levied, sometimes, after I've read a shorter piece, and the reader/listener is forced to make the same leaps as she might in certain poems. The answer is kind of yes. The truth is that I love poets. For one thing, some are very good at adding that reverent "w" sound into the word poet or poetry: so it sounds like poe-wet, or poe-wet-tree. JJ Wilson does that as smoothly as she mentions another remarkable moment, her darlng, literary repartee that makes her guests all feel part of our own marvelous moment. The "w" gives the words a shamanistic, native-esque kind of resonance. Maybe it's from living in Tucson, where poetry filled the air, and listening to a poet like Joy Harjo, or Leslie Marmon Silko (and thar goes regionalism on its strawhatted way), and feeling, Now here is someone who really does know the importance of the dust, the bush, the laugh lines in the sky.
For another thing poets are sometimes experts at economy, and allowing their imagination only certain roads: like an exclusive gps system, and for another thing they often seem to be able to merge work life and poetry life very well. Even the grand edgy conundrums take 10 words, not 140, and that is a model for living in any ilk, at least to me. But I use the use "seem" because these kind of generalizations, of course, are really, really wrong. Poets seem better at sipping, not gulping whiskey (with a nod to Dylan Thomas,
who gulped so that others could sip). Poets seem better at small talk. Maybe poets are just more fun. Everything does not seem like a terribly ironic, disturbing, enervating situation; an occasion where a bad mood might trigger that golden first line of that remarkable story about chucking it all and going to work in a cannery and falling in love with the foreman.
Or maybe that slightly distracted manner some of us have is just the awareness that time is clutching at our sleeves to sit back down and get back to work. Because writing fiction takes a long time.
The way poets treat language may have to do with it: bending rules to make language swing, refuting morays of copy style for the urgencies of line music, rhythm, that mental beat, the mindset or the narrative or narrator. But many fiction writers do this anyway. Many--the ones I love.
We're not as far away from each other as you might think, I'll say next time.