Those dry, stumbling passages. Bad sleep. Numbing doubt. Carrying on. Inevitably, a spark. In this case, an acquaintance's poems posted to general acclaim reminds me that, for me, me, the only thing worse than obscurity and failure would be to write a successful poem.
I mean the kind of poem that people react to with cheers. The kind of poem poets write that make others say, That's good writing. Wow. So raw, alive, and true. And brave. And (therefore) how brave the poet, etc., etc. That American dream.
No, that is not my job. Even while I applaud these effects in others, it is not what I signed up for, nor what I have followed through on. So, when I doubt myself I am really just looking at myself with a stranger's eyes. That seems stupid, doesn't it. Well, it is, but I guess it's part of some kind of self-critical process - a purging element. Some purge. Like as if there's any kind of swing component! I'm like a guy showing up day after day at an empty swimming pool because he hates crowds.
Well, fine. I do enough crowd-pleasing elsewhere in my life so here's the balance, the foil, the doubt that puts borders to the form. I say that like it's a plan. Goodness, I've been like this as long as I can remember.
I think my next book will be titled "what genius" - no exclamation point or ellipsis to help solidify the irony. I do after all incline to the what of what; and I do somewhat doubt the who of genius. And, as I often remind myself, I am not a genius. Oh my, am I not. Though I like to tell others that I am, or at least brilliant. I had a good exchange recently with my wife, Endi, who possesses a kind of genius, I am sure (and have been for many years), where I called her brilliant in an email to someone, I forget who. She thanked me, and I responded, No problem. As a genius, I can say such things. I will confess, that in that context, I meant every word.
So, you see, I would rather be a clear and obvious fool than a middling success. I abhor what merely satisfies, except in strictly corporeal matters. I loathe merely good poems, sensible politics, and balanced religions.
If I never write a good poem, you can be sure it was my fault.
But to be fair. I have several friends who, like Endi, are brilliant and successful as poets. I envy them, I adore them, I respect them. If I was able to do what they do, I might do it. They write brilliantly - but HELLO they do not write the sort of Hurray for Poetry/Poet poem I referenced at the start of this posting. No, their work is engaged, complex, thoughtful, insightful, relevant, and most of all it balances itself in a life that is likewise engaged.
I say, I might do it. But let's stay honest here. I would never do but what I do, as I do it. I am somewhat hopeless that way. It's a lovely, empty swimming pool, and if it ever fills you can be sure I will find an excuse to drain it or die trying.