Talking with the Buddha of Poetry (Part 1)


I had a chance to visit an oft-published (now there’s an infrequent modifier) poet of late, a calm and reasonable man who sipped Kusmi tea (French? Russian?) and tossed bon mots (French!) with gentle abandon. As a newly-published, newly-perplexed acolyte, I had plenty of questions. He didn’t lack for opinions. Here are a few:

Q: I don’t want to go all chicken-and-egg on you, but which should it be–write for yourself or write for prospective readers?

A: It is a non-question. You write for yourself and, if it speaks to the human condition that is in you, it will speak to the human condition that is in your readers. We are all unique, yet the same. Life flourishes on shady banks of paradox and irony.

Q: Why is the reading of poetry declining?

A: Is it? Poetry hides in fiction. It has even infiltrated non-fiction, or what we sometimes call “creative non-fiction,” perhaps. I don’t see it declining so much as assimilating.

Q: But poetry packaged and sold as poetry in books. The sales are dismal. The readership is anemic.

A: With few exceptions, it is as it always has been. Veneration of poetry is also cultural, more prevalent in some countries and languages than others. Schools have done poetry no favors, either. In some cases, poets themselves are guilty of self-inflicted wounds.

Q: Meaning?

A: Meaning when people compare a poem to “modern art” in a scoffing tone, they feel the work is purposely impenetrable and meaningless. If it is so obtuse it can mean anything to any reader, it becomes the punch line to a joke in the public eye. If it is a secret shared by an elect few, it becomes the poetic equivalent of the 1%.

Q: Some argue that poetry, both writing it and reading it, is too precious for its own good. Your thoughts?

A: Labeling is too precious for its own good.

Q: Why do you write?

A: Expression is by nature imperfect, and just as man is driven by the desire to know, to destroy all mystery with his curiosity, the poet is driven by the desire to capture nameless feelings in writing that has a name. It can never be, really, but the desire to make it be is what makes writing worthwhile, beautiful, and human.

Q: Do you reread your own work?

A: (laughs) If not me, who? I read my work aloud to myself, a separate me. Of course, I read other poets’ work aloud, too. I must nurture my ears as much as my eyes.

                                      …to be continued




  1. The guru sez, “Poetry hides in fiction. It has even infiltrated non-fiction, or what we sometimes call “creative non-fiction….” I’m shocked he would make such a senseless statement. If by “poetry,” he means “good” writing (musical, graphic, moving), he should say that. In order not to get lost in the critical underbrush, critiquing without defining our terms, we need to distinguish between poetry and other kinds of writing. Since poetry will never be and never has been satisfactorily defined (except, as the guru sez, “good” writing), let’s call it “verse”: writing organized by line and stanza. The opposite kind of writing is “prose,” writing organized by paragraphs. There we go, no more confusion about what is a “prose poem,” no more confusing the honorific “poetic” with the neutral term “poetry” or confusing the derogatory “prosaic” with the tern “prose.” There, let the cogent literary discussions begin!


    • I should be posing the same questions to you. There’s more than one Buddha in town, I’ve learned. In fact, most Americans think “the Buddha” is the fat, laughing one. Nope…

      (And yes, he meant “musical, graphic, moving” when saying “poetry” is appearing more and more in prose. And let’s not even start with prose poems, wherein the opposite happens–allegedly.)


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