I much appreciated Christina Pugh’s essay, not only because it was the first mention of my name in Poetry magazine, but also because she got at exactly what I was making fun of when I wrote in the bio on my website, “He divides his time between the bedroom and the kitchen.” I have never liked flapjacket blurbs, and what I like even less are those mini poet bios that say so-and-so divides his time between “San Francisco and Paris” or “New York and Mobile.” What’s the implication? That the poet has two families or two lovers (one for the warm seasons, one for the cold); that he is an itinerant bohemian (crashing on the couches of other poet-friends); that he is rich and deserves the NEA grant in the next line of his bio; or, that since he regularly travels across great stretches of land, sea, and air, he has important things to say in his poems?
Experience is a wonderful thing. But the experience of a poem and the experience of “lived life” are not the same wonderful thing. Writing poems should not be thought of as a process of translation, if only because that idea leads too many readers to wonder, “Those were some pretty words about [love, mother, porcupines, etc.], but what really was the experience [antecedent, story] behind the poem?” The experience of a poem is to make the reader experience both language and life, but mostly language!
Mount Pleasant, Michigan