One place understood helps us understand all places better.

Eudora Welty


Sunday, December 8, 2019

Poets don't teach

This poem is only incidentally about John Berryman. Berryman was an American poet best known for his The Dream Songs volumes. I know little about him except that he suffered from depression and alcoholism.

His father killed himself with a shotgun when Berryman was young, supposedly right outside Berryman's bedroom window. Berryman also committed suicide by jumping from the bridge named in the poem which was in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The poem was motivated by the teacher of an online poetry class. She was absolutely insistent that there was a right way to do poetry and a wrong way and wouldn't respond to any of the poems I sent because they were the wrong way.

See the comments after the poem.

Poets don't teach

Poets don't write critique
or for each other.
They write for song and to hear
it come back to them
“in the heart of a friend.”
Sometimes they don't publish at all.

Poets don't start movements
they don't describe images.
That's a camera, a mechanism.
They spin a gyre
and listen.

Poets don't teach.
They dress bandages,
they buy and sale insurance and bonds
they drink themselves to poetry
or lean forward from the railing of
the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Do you?


"Poets don't write critique/or for each other" refers to my teacher. In general, "academic" poets write for other academics and for career.

The line "in the heart of a friend" is from Longfellow. 

"Sometimes they don't publish at all" refers to Emily Dickinson.

"Poets don't start movements/they don't describe images" is a reference to the Modernist, and especially Imagists poets, and their almost manic insistence on visual description.

"They spin a gyre and listen" refers to Yeats.

"They dress bandages" refers to Whitman's hospital service during the American Civil War.

"they buy and sale insurance and bonds" refers to Wallace Stevens who worked as an executive at an insurance company most his life while writing his poetry.

Finally, the last three lines refer to Berryman, who like my teacher, taught college for a living.