Monday, October 23, 2017

Steve Cahill's response to Wendell Berry's How to Be a Poet

S.J. (Steve) Cahill
How to be a poet --

First of all, forget convention,
the restrictions of form.
Don't think about syllables and lines
Or poems with rhymes.
And don't worry about length -- for God's sake don't worry about
     too short or too long
or you'll get caught in the straitjacket stranglehold of that
     suffocating embrace
of writing lines that fit on the page and trying not to push
     envelopes or margins or
write stream-of-consciousness prose-like sentences that go
     on-and-on with free-
range enjambment and making lines break in the middle because
     sometimes a
poem needs a good run-on sentence to give the poem
     a little outlaw flavor.
One of those.
There are no rules Cowboy, and the ones that exist need to be broken.
So let the mind go free, like a runaway horse, or a jungle cat, or an innocent child,
or a squall at sea from hot Mediterranean winds.  Let the mind gush like a Roman
fountain and rage like a flood-stage river.  Let it laugh like an insane serial killer or
tinkle like the music of silver water in a mountain stream.
Let the mind flow like spilled water
-- filling and forming --
hither and thither (Now there's a weird pair of words)
seeking its own level
or overflowing the dam.
Think what happens to lemons to make lemonade.
What happens to eggs to make omelets.
What happens to animals to make sausage.
            (Or maybe don't think about that.)
Think about love and life with ethereal light and music and song
Think about loose cannons and death and wars that went wrong
       Short wars -- The Six Day War
                 Long wars -- The 100 Year War
                           Wars with pretty names -- The War of Roses
The Big One -- aren't they all? -- The war to end all wars that didn't.
Hot wars and cold wars and what we'll name the one that's coming?
We're losing The war on drugs and the War on poverty
The war of attrition -- that one may go either way.
The war against the environment seems to be the only one we're winning.
So the war of words -- which we're having now -- is all you need if you want to
be a poet, so just do it, because being a poet is a pretty good gig:
                             You can stay in your pajamas all day -- Talk in non sequiturs
                             Act weird -- Stare into space and claim to be thinking.
                             And forget to take out the trash
          And you can leave pieces and fragments and pages of stuff like this lying
around unfinished because you are a poet -- and poets can get away with it --
poets have a ticket to ride.  Get on the humanity train and head for happy or sad or
true love forever or broken hearts and lonely despair.  Saddle up a horse with no
name and take a ride on the wild side.  And who knows?  Sometimes even
something like this can end up on life support and help you make it through the
darkness of another long night.
       Whatever you write won't get you into heaven, but it will get you into a
poetry group at The Barton Library and you'll have a chance to read your writing
to some real poets.
p.s.  And they have a blog

                                                                                           S.J. (Steve) Cahill

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