Poets give the mind a motion too changeable and bewitching, to consist with right practice. We must avoid their specious tropes and figures and the vicious abundance of phrase, this trick of metaphors, this volubility of tongue, which makes so great a noise in the world. I saw the soul of Hesiod bound fast to a brazen pillar and gibbering, and the soul of Homer hung on a tree with serpents writhing about it, this being their punishment for what they had said about the gods. For they deserved to be chased out of the lists and beaten with rods. No one can interrogate poets about what they say. The dialectic cannot engage them. Most often when they are introduced into the discussion some say that the poet’s meaning is one thing and some another, for the topic is one on which nobody can produce a conclusive argument. The wit of the fables and religions of the ancient world is well nigh consumed: they have already served the poets long enough; and it is now high time to dismiss them; especially seeing they have this peculiar imperfection, that they were only fictions at first. Poets are liars. Their creation is far removed from the truth, and this, it seems, is the reason why it can produce everything, because it touches or lays hold on only a small part of the object and that a phantom. The very fact that they are poets makes them think that they have a perfect understanding of all other subjects of which they are totally ignorant.
Who suffered these seducing mummers to approach this sick man? Never have they nursed his sorrows with any remedies, but rather fostered them with poisonous sweets. These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing harvest of reason with the barren briars of the passions; they do not free the minds of men from disease but accustom them thereto. I make fun of the self-styled madness of the poets, of their overbearing claim to divine inspiration. They should be charged with heresy, uselessness, complete lack of substance and solidity; they are venal and obsequious, malicious and immoral, unashamed plagiarists; they are worthy of punishment rather than of praise. I must confess that poets are whetstones of wit, notwithstanding that wit is dearly bought: where honey and gall are mixed, it will be hard to sever one from the other.
Pull off the vizard that Poets mask in, you shall disclose their reproach, beware their vanities, loath their wantonness, lament their folly, and perceive their sharp sayings to be placed as pearls in dunghills, fresh pictures on rotten walls, chaste Matrons apparel on Common courtesans. These are the cups of Circes, that turn reasonable creatures into brute beasts, the balls of Hippomanes that hinder the course of Atalanta; and the blocks of the Devil that are cast in our ways, to cut off the raze of toward wits. No marvel that Plato shut them out of his school, and banished them quite from his common wealth, as effeminate writers, unprofitable members, and utter enemies to virtue. I confess, in discourses where we seek rather pleasure and delight than information and improvement, such ornaments as are borrowed from them can scarce pass for faults. But yet if we would speak of things as they are, we must allow that all the art of poetry, besides order and cleanness; all the artificial application of words eloquence has invented, are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong ideas, move the passions, and thereby mislead the judgment, and so indeed are perfect cheats.
Poets write verses on a new principle; see rocks and rivers in a new light; and remaining studiously ignorant of history, society, and human nature, cultivate the fantasy only at the expense of the memory and the reason; and contrive, though they retreat from the world for the express purpose of seeing nature as she is, to see her only as she is not. They didn't have much trouble teaching the ape to write poems: first they strapped him into the chair, then tied the pencil around his hand (the paper had already been nailed down). Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder and whispered into his ear: "You look like a god sitting there. Why don't you try writing something?" Yet, behold, in the course of centuries, the singers have been multiplying, the singers who, while singing, are forced to assume the posture of the singer and it is this posture that in time becomes more and more rigid. And one singer arouses another and one confirms the other in an ever more stubborn frenzy of song, ha, they are no longer singing for the other people but for one another; and between them, on a path of unceasing rivalry, a constant perfecting of themselves in the singing, a pyramid is created whose peak reaches the heavens and which we admire from below, from earth looking upward. The poem has grown to monstrous proportions so that we no longer control it; it rules us. Poets have become slaves and we could describe the poet as a being who can no longer express himself as much as someone who must express—a Poem.
Why do they call that thing they gave me nutsteak? Nutarians. Fruitarians. To give you the idea you are eating rumpsteak. Absurd. Salty too. I detest that: so tasteless. Those literary ethereal people they are all. Dreamy, cloudy, symbolistic. Esthetes they are. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that kind of food you see produces the like waves of the brain the poetical. Why do poets wear deodorant and brush their teeth? Because they have B.O. and bad breath. Behold he not only vaunts poetry, he is also enamored of it; being a poet, he adores the greatness of the poet; he not only demands that others fall to their knees before him, he, too falls to his knees in front of himself. If only a poet could treat his singing as a mania or ritual: if only he would sing as those who must sing even though they know they sing in a vacuum. If, instead of a proud “I, the poet,” he were capable of saying these words with shame or with fear, even with revulsion.
Javier O. Huerta's debut collection Some Clarifications y otros poemas (Arte Publico 2007) received the 31st Chicano/Latino Literary Prize from UC Irvine. He is also the author of American Copia (2012). A graduate of the Bilingual MFA Program at UT El Paso, Huerta is currently a PhD student in the...