I’m reading Stephen Dobyns book of essays on poetry; Best Words, Best Order (1996/2003). I enjoy it a lot, but there is this view in the first essay called Deception, that I find rather difficult to understand. In a discussion on the difference between the novel and poetry, Dobyns say:
So in my poetry I believe I deal with the existing world and in my novels with alternative worlds. If I feel badly about the world, dislike its people, feel pessimistic about its future, then I can’t write poetry. Fiction I can write any time, because it is not connected to my immediate feelings about the world. I don’t need to love human beings in order to write it.
My question is: Why can’t he write poems when he feels bad about the world? Isn’t sadness, sorrow and loss amongst the strongest sources of poetry?
Dobyns goes on to discuss the standard Romantic formula for how poetry gets written, and adds on a very fine and respectful view on the role of the reader:
One writes when one is unable to remain silent, and what one does is to make a small machine out of words that re-creates the same feeling in another human being, any time, any place – meaning that without the reader, there can be no poem.
It can even be argued that it is the reader who makes the poem, because if the ideal reader cannot re-create the emotion of the poet’s words, then no poem exist.
I love how he here brings the reader into the completion of the poem, but I still don’t understand why he, as a poet himself, has to be happy and optimistic about people & the world to write?!
But if I feel hostile toward the world and dislike its people, I can’t write poetry – there is nothing I wish to say to the reader on the other side of the page except Go Away!
For me, writing a poem is to engage with the world, writing a novel is to escape from its immediacy
I might make a minor case into a central theme here, and you could rightly ask: why am I so interested in why Dobyns can’t write poetry when he is in a melancholic mood …
In my next post I will follow a different thread in Dobyns very fine book of essays.
… in poetry I am intensifying my life …