Writers are necessarily engaged in a solitary enterprise. They work alone with words and try to make sense of a world, however complex or simple it may be. They try to reach out to others with the burden of explaining and clarifying.
A man asserted to the universe that he existed— in Stephen Crane’s words.
And if the universe doesn’t care, the post-Darwinian, postmodern universe — the man, or woman, whether poet, storyteller, historian, science writer — keeps on writing and trying to make sense.
One way of coming out of his solitariness is to meet with other writers, of course, who may be similarly alone and urgently trying to break out of their skins. So, writers meet in writers’ groups, fiction writers congregating and poets pausing mid-pentameter to sniff each other’s stuff.
A small group of poets has resumed gathering now in Fayetteville, nearly post-Covid, every couple of weeks in a local coffee and beer cafe, and trying to accomplish something human and humane.
We exchange poems and discuss a few ways to market the idea of poetry —in particular, a local poetry collective that can go out and perform in the community and resurrect the idea that poetry is not only entertaining but somehow necessary.
We may not be minstrels who go round and roust up the nobles and peasants alike in the interest of community. But shouldn’t we be able to attract a few people who are tired of streaming media and screaming TV ?And who may not even realize they are sick and tired of these entertainments?
According to dictionary.com, poetry is “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.”
Can’t contemporary poets excite a little pleasure in those for whom words are not simply grunts or commands?
Poetry can be beautiful, surely. It’s necessarily imaginative. It can even be elevated, though this is not necessarily so, not in the 21st century.
To excite anything like popular pleasure, poets must break out of their solitariness, the environment in which they work, and share their stuff with each other, bolstering and criticizing at the same time, urging their words to make more sense and engage with the public.
How do we reach others who may need the solace and the light that poetry can convey? How do we convince them that poetry is not an archaic enterprise, not necessarily or essentially academic or precious, but an integral and saving part of who we can be as humans?
If language is a gift, not simply a transactional commodity (do this, do that, when can I see you again?), then we are give and receive if we read and write and listen to poetry. A poet is a maker (from the Greek poiētḗs), and he makes things happen. He opens eyes. He taps into primal and insistent impulses. Yes, yes, yes, we all want to live before we die. We want to know and feel what it is to live and to share this gift with you.
Poetry can and should be exciting. It may be entertaining. But it’s primary aim is not to compete with TV or the movies. It has something deeper and sometimes more subversive in mind.