We have nothing new to say about poetry

A black poetry book on dark wood

Dear Reader, 

Why does writing the newsletter always make feel like I have to give something of myself up? I lament to my friend and colleague Justin on Friday. The afternoon is slipping into evening; most of our other colleagues have left, and we are staring at my computer screen and wondering aloud: what else can we say about poetry that hasn’t been said already? 

In an uncharacteristically idealistic fashion, Justin says that poetry has undeniably demonstrated its ability to move the world, to stamp its lasting imprint on us. This, of course, is easy to believe. It is fact. The bit that makes this reality feel like idealism is when economics come into the picture. In the same breath Justin shares an article with me about how even though people love poetry, people don’t buy poetry books. Idealism and pessimism are inseparable in the world of literature.

The minutes wear on and we are still staring at our computer screens. What can we say? What can we write? 

Then Justin shares with me poems from Maggie Nelson. And then another poem, and then another. Don’t you feel like sometimes the world is so generous and we find so many good poems to read in one day? he says. And I think, Yeah. I suppose this is one of those days. I allow myself this indulgence. 

Justin calls me over to look at his screen. Have you read this? He shows me a poem by Wallace Stevens:

“The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one’s desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair.”

My speechlessness which felt at first like a barrier now becomes a comforting blanket. From these lines alone, suddenly I did not feel so invisible. 

We have nothing new to say about poetry. We can only insist that it is important.


(From November 17, 2019)