That the poet, the modern poet, is, understandably enough, for all sorts of good reasons, more obscure than even he has any imaginable right to be--this is one of those great elementary (or, as people say nowadays, elemental) attitudes about which it is hard to write anything that is not sensible and gloomily commonplace; one might as well talk on faith and works, on heredity and environment, or on that old question: why give the poor bath-tubs when they only use them to put coal in? Anyone knows enough to reply to this question: "They don't; and, even if they did, that's not the reason you don't want to help pay for the tubs." Similarly, when someone says, "I don't read modern poetry because it's all stuff nobody on earth can understand," I know enough to be able to answer, though not aloud: "It isn't; and, even if it were, that's not the reason you don't read it." Any American poet under a certain age, a fairly advanced age--the age, one is tempted to say, of Bernard Shaw--has inherited a situation in which no one looks at him and in which, consequently, everyone complains that he is invisible: for that corner into which no one looks is always dark. And people who have inherited the custom of not reading poets justify it by referring to the obscurity of the poems they have never read--since most people decide that poets are obscure very much as legislators decide that books are pornographic: by glancing at a few fragments someone has strung together to disgust them.
From "The Obscurity of the Poet" by Randall Jarrell
There seems to me a personal truth in this passage, not to mention the whole essay. As I dig deeper into poetry, as I immerse myself further into this as a fledging profession, I realize that I am isolating myself from the type of people that Jarrell references, as many of the people I love, converse with daily, need in my life are those types of people, non-poetry lovers. For reasons that Jarrell mentions, these people of my life have not found, loved, devoured poetry as I have come to know it. For reasons I can't explain, I have.
If I am in fact going to make poetry any sort of career (writer + reviewer + publisher + teacher), each poem written/published, each class taught, each book read that takes time away from television/sports/pop culture isolates me further. While it is true that a career should only be a part of life, "art," a Jarrell says later in that essay, "matters not merely because it is the most magnificent ornament and the most nearly unfailing occupation of our lives, but because it is life itself." If this is true, as I assume it to be, I am committing myself to something that as Jarrell's non-reader example says, "nobody on earth can understand." Contrast that with a profession like a doctor, where even if I know nothing of practicing, I still know enough about the body, the profession (we all visit doctors!) to sustain a connection with a medical professional. In poetry's case, already, I see this becoming true as my wife says "This stuff is over my head," my best friend takes 3 months to read 12 pages of a book of poems I thought he would devour, and my closest friends become the people who are in this corner with me.
Few concerns I have with writing this post:
1) It lacks my optimism. (I assure you it is somewhere in there)
2) I don't want this to sound boo-hooey. Just something I've been thinking about.
3) I have to call myself a poet, a term I am not comfortable with. And maybe I'm not, but I want to be a poet more than anything right now.
4) I'm not trying to condemn any of the non-poetry people in my life. They are great, more wonderful than I.
5) Oh those of you in your own dark corner, how I need you!