Nobody reads poetry, we are told at every inopportune moment. I read poetry. I am somebody. I am the people, too. It can be allowed that an industrious quantity of contemporary American poetry is consciously written for a hermetic constituency; the bulk is written for the bourgeoisie, leaving a lean cut for labor. Only the hermetically aimed has a snowball's chance in hell of reaching its intended ears. One proceeds from this realization. A staggering figure of vibrant, intelligent people can and do live without poetry, especially without the poetry of their time. This figure includes the unemployed, the rank and file, the union brass, banker, scientist, lawyer, doctor, architect, pilot, and priest. It also includes most academics, most of the faculty of the humanities, most allegedly literary editors and most allegedly literary critics. They do so--go forward in their lives, toward their great reward, in an engulfing absence of poetry--without being perceived or perceiving themselves as hobbled or deficient in any significant way. It is nearly true, though I am often reminded of a Transtromer broadside I saw in a crummy office building in San Francisco:We got dressed and showed the houseYou live well the visitor saidThe slum must be inside you.If I wanted to understand a culture, my own for instance, and if I thought such an understanding were the basis for a lifelong inquiry, I would turn to poetry first. For it is my confirmed bias that the poets remain the most 'stunned by existence,' the most determined to redeem the world in words..
My HeartI'm not going to cry all the timenor shall I laugh all the time,I don't prefer one "strain" to another.I'd have the immediacy of a bad movie,not just a sleeper, but also the big,overproduced first-run kind. I want to be at least as alive as the vulgar. And if some aficionado of my mess says "That's not like Frank!," all to the good! I don't wear brown and grey suits all the time, do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,often. I want my feet to be bare,I want my face to be shaven, and my heart--you can't plan on the heart, butthe better part of it, my poetry, is open.
At the round earth's imagined corners blowYour trumpets, angels, and arise, ariseFrom death, you numberless infinitiesOf souls, and to your scattered bodies go ;All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,All whom war, dea[r]th, age, agues, tyrannies,Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyesShall behold God, and never taste death's woe.But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ;For, if above all these my sins abound,'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,Teach me how to repent, for that's as goodAs if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.
Our two souls therefore, which are one, Though I must go, endure not yet A breach, but an expansion, Like gold to aery thinness beat. If they be two, they are two so As stiff twin compasses are two ; Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show To move, but doth, if th' other do. And though it in the centre sit, Yet, when the other far doth roam, It leans, and hearkens after it, And grows erect, as that comes home. Such wilt thou be to me, who must, Like th' other foot, obliquely run ; Thy firmness makes my circle just, And makes me end where I begun.