You don’t hear people talking like that about poetry, do you? “Did you see the Eagles game last night? Man, they kicked ass!” Poetry that kicks ass. Yeah, seems I only ever hear poets talk that way. There was a great article on the Onion last September. It’s funny, but also sadly illustrative of the state of poetry these days. Don’t read this the wrong way and think I am dissing the man Phillip Levine. Hell no! The U.S. Poet Laureate rocks. What I mean is that the way people look at poetry today is pretty sad. It does appear to be an art trying desperately not to die. Why has it died in the public mind (if indeed it has, which I would argue it has). We poets like to blame everyone from MTV to computer games, to really bad tenth grade English teachers. But the truth is, I think it’s our own fault.
But I’ll come back to that in an upcoming post. National Poetry Month is less than two weeks away after all, so we have lots to talk about. And one of the things I want to talk about is the variety of ways that poets and poetry organizations are trying to reverse that trend and bring poetry to the masses in an alive and relevant way. For now, let’s look at a poem that for me does what Emily Dickinson said that poetry should do, leave me “so cold no fire can ever warm me,” and “feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.” I think of it as a gut punch. My old friend Cadlin, that cowboy poet, used to call it a velvet punch. It hurt but you were grateful for the hurt, and wanted more, a beautiful hurt that also heals the soul. Why is there so much soulless poetry out there today? Ah, again, let’s talk about that more as we approach the big month of poetic orgies and versified celebrations. For now here’s a poem that I first read from the National Academy of Poets’ Poem a Day Feed, by a young poet named Mathew Dickman. It gets at me.
by Matthew Dickman
for matthew z and matthew r
I remember telling the joke
about child molestation and seeing
the face of the young man
I didn’t know well enough
turn from something with light
inside of it into something like
an animal that’s had its brain
bashed in, something like that, some
sky inside him breaking
all over the table and the beers.
It’s amazing, finding out
my thoughtlessness has no bounds,
is no match for any barbarian,
that it runs wild and hard
like the Mississippi. No, the Rio Grande.
No, the Columbia. A great river
of thorns and when this stranger
stood up and muttered
something about a cigarette,
the Hazmat team
in my chest begins to cordon
off my heart, glowing
a toxic yellow,
and all I could think about
was the punch line “sexy kids,”
that was it, “sexy kids,” and all the children
I’ve cared for, wiping
their noses, rocking them to sleep,
all the nieces and nephews I love,
and how no one ever
opened me up like can of soup
in the second grade, the man
now standing on the sidewalk, smoke smothering
his body, a ghost unable
to hold his wrists down
or make a sound like a large knee in between
two small knees, but terrifying and horrible all the same.
Copyright © 2011 by Matthew Dickman
3 Comments Add yours
Thank you for linking to me! 🙂 You made my night.