“And as imagination bodies forth
The form of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives airy nothing
A local habitation and a name”
Shakespeare, A MidSummer’s Night Dream
I’m not exactly how to distinguish a poet from anybody else. Are they any different? Does a poet look at the world in a different way? A poet may be no different than you or I or any ordinary person. Could be you or I, in fact. A poet, though, does have the extraordinary gift to translate into words the aches and the beauty — the aching beauty — of the world so that we can see something that we know is true – deep in our bones have always known is true – for the first time.
I wrote words similar to this elsewhere earlier, then, later came across this link to Billy Collins talking about poetry. I have a love/hate thing with Mr. Collins. Some of his poems, I love. Sometimes I get what he is about. Other times, I think it is dribble — and I hate it that it is good dribble, but dribble just the same.
From the interview:
The joy in writing poetry is being down on your hands and knees with the language. If someone carves swans and animals out of soap, that person loves soap. And if you write, you love the language. Writing a poem is an opportunity to get as close to the language as, pretty much, you can get.
That is something that I like very much.
One of the key pleasures—and most poets would agree with this—is starting out not knowing where you’re going and finding a way to get there. The poem becomes not a whole expression of something you think or feel but a journey through itself to an ending. And that ending is unforseeable. In fact, that ending is something the poem is busy creating. It’s almost as if the poem is the only way to access that particular ending.
And I agree, somewhat with this. But I would use the word discovering, rather than creating. Yes, there is a creation of the poem, but a discovery of the idea of it as well. Wasn’t it Michelangelo who said that every sculpture already existed within the marble? I think poems and the work of a poet are similar.
“How do you manage to balance writing a poem every two weeks and doing absolutely nothing in between?”—that “very delicate” act of balancing there. It’s not a labor-intensive job.
What, Mr. Collins? It isn’t difficult? I thought poets only made it look easy. Frustrating. But maybe it is only a myth, like the conceit of the starving artist, that it is not good if it is without struggle.
Returning to the Shakespeare quote I began with: I think that poets give a name to an airy something, not an “airy nothing”, it only seems like nothing until the poet gives it shape. And it is worth the work to get there — as a reader and a writer.