“What is troublesome about poets sequestered at the university is that unless we go to trade school or are exempt as trust-fund cases, in the sight of potential employers we might as well bear the mark of the beast. As a result, the university is virtually the only place for us. In the nation at large being a poet is suspect at best. ‘Read? I don’t read. Readin’s for queers,’ said one respondent to a recent poll on literacy. What a country.”–C.D. Wright
America has this thing about elitism, always has. It’s snobbish to read. It’s hi-falutin’ to get an education. It’s poking fun at your uneducated ancestry to want an education, to want knowledge, to want to better yourself. I’m sick of that crap. Go for what you want, even if it makes you look like a “queer.” Pretty soon, we’ll all look like queers, and the world will be better for it.
C.D. Wright’s words that I took from her book I just finished (Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil) combine two things I know about this country: We are suspicious of education and we think that poetry belongs to the educated. I guess my whole life has been a way of addressing both of those ideas.
In my first master’s thesis (never completed), I used a line from Cather’s My Antonia in one of my poems, and I don’t have the poem or the thesis anymore, so I will paraphrase: “I knew I could never be an academic. I could never lose myself for long among impersonal things.” Education need not be impersonal, but it often is. I have always fought against that trend.
Poetry belongs everywhere. Good poetry. Not doggerel or Reader’s Digest verse or clichéd ditties. Real poetry belongs everywhere, and everyone needs to read it. Elsewhere in the book, Wright says, “It is poetry that remarks on the barely perceptible disappearances from our world such as that of the sleeping porch or the root cellar. And poetry that notes the barely perceptible appearances.” For that reason alone, poetry belongs everywhere.
It is more accurate and efficient than history. It is the news that stays news. It is the record of the consistent line that runs through time when the blood is gone and the bone is crumbling in the dust. I’m always asking the world to be open to poetry. I tell you, Listen to the way it cuts through the fog, and the way it is the fog and the way it shows you that you are the fog, as well.
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mark of the beast