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A Bag Full of Slimy Questions


(If I started to read poetry

To a group of working men

On the street

On their lunch hour

And they started to throw

Bottles and cans at me

It would not be because

My words were too lofty

And they took offence

At my language

It would be

Because they are annoyed

That someone is interrupting

Their lunch hour

By reading poetry.

What sort of fruitcake

Walks up to a group

Of men on their lunch hour

And starts reading poetry?)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


The question arises

Like Aphrodite rising from the sea

At the moment of her birth

Fully formed and imbued

With all her provocative powers:

What purpose do we intend for our poetry? 

Let me further stir

The metaphorical pot

With a little warning:

The question is more treacherous than any Hydra,

For it will grow

A half dozen new interrogative heads

Before the first has even found

Anything resembling a satisfactory answer.


What do we believe the purpose of our poetry to be?


Is it to serve as a kind of “functional art”? That is to say must it point to something else; illuminate some principle; expound some hitherto shrouded veracity? Is it the role of poetry to serve as footstool to political agendas and social unrest?  Is it poetry’s job to carry the story of our broken hearts and broken bodies?  Is poetry a container, granted, perhaps an amorphous one, into which we pour all our wounds, all our healing, our sighing our crying and our dying.


If we were poems

And who says we are not

Would we be charged

By our authors

To forever point

Away from ourselves

And to something

That we have been

Written about?


Or is poetry an “aesthetic art”? Is the poet’s art valid when, like so many other art forms, it exits first and foremost to please the senses: to add beauty to the world with its sound and its rhythm or even with its appearance on the page?  Perhaps this is what poetry is about: to enrich the soul with the sheer beauty of words and anything else it may accomplish that is not about the beauty of language is a purely latent, albeit perhaps beneficial effect.  Perhaps the power of poetry is not that the words themselves laid out just so clearly or in just the “proper” way may persuade, but rather that beauty has the property of expanding the mind and enlivening the soul, and it is those broadened hearts and lively souls that seek to change the world and engender equity and live in peace.


So which is it? Is poetry a vehicle for our politics, our histories, our sunsets, our butterflies, our lost lives and loves?  Or are these things a vehicle for our poetry?


The answer of course is yes.


If we decide that the first path is our personal road less taken wanting wear, in pursuing the path do we risk making poetry a second class art, subject and beholden to that which is not art.  If it is the second way that calls us and we decide that indeed, the poem is the thing, we risk the ugly epithet of irrelevance.


I fear my pot of metaphors

Is growing cold

And my word-stew

Is congealing terribly

So again I’ll stir the pot

Like Raven

Of Pacific Northwest legend

I create by playing tricks

Even though

Most of my tricks

Explode in my face

So this is my trick tonight

To hurl a bag full

Of squirming slimy questions

For which I myself have no immediate answer

Over your fortress wall

And wait crouching outside the barred gate

And listen and watch

For whatever may happen.


I have not and I may never take sides on this issue.  I am so very grateful no one can make me take sides.  Oh there are times I am painfully, wretchedly stubborn like Maximillian Arrowsmith, I will not be dissuaded from the purity of my purpose… it  MUST be about art.  And all it takes are the eyes of a hungry child to transform me in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye into a crusader, a literary Robin Hood. 


Tell me your thoughts,

For I want to learn.





22. August, 2003