A Community of Poets

There was a time, oh, when I was somewhere between seventeen and eighteen, when I was an insufferable know-it-all. Now, this isn’t particularly unusual in a kid approaching the end of his teenage years, but I was probably marginally worse, because I was intelligent—or, at least, I got good grades and I was the son of a college professor, and it’s the same thing until you look closely.

Somehow, despite the fact that I already knew everything (a symptom of a condition I came to realize later was stupidity), I managed to figure out that I wanted to be a writer. It started slow, and mostly stemmed from the fact that I really liked telling stories (read: lies) and I always ended up getting A’s on my English papers, which wasn’t saying much. So I shoved the two haphazardly together, and started writing fiction. Everything I did, for most of that time, revolved around fiction. I wouldn’t go anywhere near anything else, especially poetry, which I disdained.

If I had to blame anyone besides myself, I suppose I’d blame the environment. I didn’t like poetry because I didn’t know what poetry was—there was no community there to show me the way. There no poets, or, if there were, they had no public community.  My total introduction to poetry was being forced to scan Frost’s The Road Not Taken, and if scansion has given birth to a poet even once in all of time, I’ll be impressed.

I recently discovered the community I had missed before. I wrote a poem—not quite on a whim, because I was taking a poetry class in the coming semester, and wanted to at least have tried my hand at it once before I walked in.

I enjoyed it. I wasn’t expecting to.

The class was nice—good fun was had by all. I didn’t realize what it had done to me, though, until the semester drew towards a close. When it had, I looked back and saw that I knew names. I had contacts. I would get e-mails saying, “Hullo, I just wrote this, do you like it?” and I would write back, “Yes indeed, but stanza 3 drags a bit. Perhaps make your language a little more nimble?”

Community got me, without me noticing until it was too late. I didn’t mind though; it was nice.

I had been dragged into appreciation. I listened to my fellow poets, and they listened to me. We respected one another, and our writing flourished. We had our place within one another—an encouraging word, a bit of advice. Poets need to bump heads with people sometimes, and fight for ideas. We provided the heads for each other to bump.

And we found our place among the greater community—the Poetry Universal. We were doing things. We weren’t just smearing words on a page, we were doing something that, if you squinted, looked like art.

Then the semester ended, and the e-mails stopped. No mode heads to bump. No more ego boosts when someone mentioned that they like what I had written. No more community.

And the words stopped coming.

Community is necessary for a poet, but it’s fragile. The challenge is to have one that’s not based around something other than what it ought to be. Community based on GPA will dry up once the 4.0’s roll around. Community based on location can get disturbed by anything from an earthquake to a noisy group of kids moving to the table next to yours.

Community—a lasting community—has to be based on something more permanent: the poetry itself, and the poets. Community must be rooted in community, a self-sustaining web of connection.

T.S. Elliot once wrote that this thing we call ‘art’ is not just a lump of all the individual works, but something larger. Each piece of poetry is woven in to fit into a great framework of the stuff. There isn’t a piece of art—of poetry—that doesn’t affect the whole.

The community is the same way. The poets—the integral parts of the community—we’re already here. In a very real sense, the community of poets is already in place, as permanent and strong as the whole of poetry itself.

We just need to reach out and find those connections. If we could…

 

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