On Writing and Reading

I’ve been worrying about something with increasing distress.

Yesterday, after I wrote a poem about walking

to lose Covid weight I’ve gained since March of last year,

I wondered if I knew what a poem was anymore.

Poetry, I’ve always thought of, as an accretion of fragments,

a collecting of scattered words we turn into phrases, images,

the author’s imagination a magnet pulling them together,

hooking them along like some kind of tapestry,

size dependent on whether the author decides the poem is complete.

Which, I’m leaning toward, is never.

A poem is never-ending,

always approaching some kind of goal that keeps receding.

We stop writing a poem; we don’t finish it.

Death finishes a poem. Ask Walt Whitman.

If he were alive today, he’d still be adding to his ball of string,

another poem/leaf integrated into his Leaves of Grass,

another crack at editing every poem already included.

Seriously, I don’t think I can figure out anymore

what differentiates poetry from prose.

Why didn’t I write about losing Covid weight as a short story? Why a poem?

I have no idea.

Nowadays, any subject seems equally suitable for poetry or prose.

I could have easily turned my poem last night into a story.

Shakespeare turned poetry into plays.

This poem could be an essay.

Even more worrisome than that, I think I’m understanding poetry less.

I’ve been writing poems almost daily for eight years.

Whenever I read another poet’s work now, I don’t look for some big picture.

I can’t explain it, don’t recall the academic ins and outs of interpretation.

I refuse to say, however, that I wasted my years as an English major.

I learned plenty, I know.

But I spend all my time digging into the nitty-gritty,

figuring out techniques, wondering if I can use them and how,

borrowing phrases, whole lines and more,

cool images, and imitating clever writing games.

In the end, if people ask me to help them understand a poem,

I fear I have no idea what to say.

Except maybe: I fear you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Boy, would I make a lousy English teacher now.

I remember I used to know something about reading poetry.

But the more I fool around with my own writing these days, the farther afield I drift,

and all the more I worry I’ve forgotten how to read much of anything at all.

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