Please note: This photo has absolutely nothing to do with this post. It does, however, prove that I went to the Montgomery County Fair this fall, you know, in case it ever comes up.
I am a poet who does not read poems.
The less hyperbolic, slightly more true version of that statement is: I am a poet who doesn’t read very many poems considering I am a poet. I love poems. I love poets. I love the camaraderie and provocation of workshops and residencies. I love buying volumes of poetry by friends and other poets I admire. (A rough guess puts my bookshelf collection at nearly 200 individual volumes, and perhaps a dozen or so anthologies.) I love finding poems in my e-mail or discovering new poems at the NEA’s annual national Poetry Out Loud competition.
But still I am poet who does not read nearly enough poems. When I read a poem, a good poem, it’s like sticking my soaking wet finger into an electric socket. My brain does one of two things: it shuts down completely, overwhelmed by the poem. The poem itself tunnels down into the subconscious and I find myself puttering around my apartment feeling that something is at work but unable to articulate precisely what that work is. The other reaction is that it immediately sends me to my own blank page, to unleash a gaggle of lines that has been lurking and now has the password to make itself visible. (I should add that the first reaction also ends up at the blank page, though it may not be till days or even weeks later.) Reading poems is not a restful activity; it’s a generative one. Poems provoke, they cajole, they urge, they flip switches. They summon, call forth, conjure. They are wild magic that I cannot afford to take lightly.