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Journal, Day Five

By Jeff Shotts

It seems so often the case that the business surrounding poetry is what gets discussed—too often discussed above poetry itself. I realize, looking back at this week’s entries, I have almost entirely written about issues around the submission process and the role of poetry editors and publishers, with the thought that that was what I was asked to do. I hope it’s been useful in some way. But little of it has been about poetry. Perhaps that’s best left to the poets themselves—

—except that it’s maybe the problem that our culture has often left poetry to the poets themselves. I am always surprised and excited when I meet or hear from someone enthusiastically describing why they love a particular poem and then I find out that someone does not identify themselves as a poet. There’s something pure in it. There’s something about reaching a reader for whom the poem itself is enough, for whom the poem fulfills that need, which for the poet is not fulfilled. Fanny Howe suggested once in an interview that being a poet may, in fact, have little or nothing to do with writing. She went on to say that many of the best poets she knows aren’t even writers. It’s a shimmering thought.

And so. To poetry—. This one, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, among my most dear. So formally constricted, so syntactically tortured, so spiritually and sexually anguished, it almost seems the poet won’t survive the writing of his poem. And yet it’s a plea against creative paralysis—cured, perhaps, in the making of the poem itself, in the rain that I must believe those roots receive. That seems as good a place as anywhere to leave our week, our work.

Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord

Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum; verumtamen justa loquar ad te: quare via impiorum prosperatur? |&c.| (Jerem. xii 1.)

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,

Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.


Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, May 12th, 2006 by Jeff Shotts.