After a lovely night at a local bar, I am convinced that people are drawn to but belittle poetry because, to put it simply, they fear their own potential. Poetry lets you say anything. A la Kenneth Koch, you aren’t bound to the logic of everyday language. If I give you a command or tell you how to drive to my house, I don’t really want you to bring in your own associations and misinterpret what I’ve said. You might get lost.
But poetry, at its most basic level, requires that you consider getting lost: Make unpredicted associations! Explore the irrational! Look at life through a new lens of your own creation! Abandon what you know! Make new. Undo. Rewrap. Connect the unconnectable. Coerce the placated. Move rocks and touch the dust. The little aphorisms through which we try to label poetry’s potential are meant to encourage us to step away from our own familiars & loosen the leashes to which we are bound. They are little permissions to explore our mind’s potential: what else can you think? What discoveries can you make of your own volition? We crave those permissions–and need to be reminded of them regularly. But maybe we also fear that what our minds create and discover won’t be so interesting or earth shattering. Maybe we’re just dull down deep. Or reproducing what already is. Or maybe we’re crazy after all. What if I write something and no one recognizes the brilliance within? What if I end up at the end of a rope or in Bellevue?
Or maybe I’m just writing about myself this morning.
Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is co-editing with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edited the anthology Bettering American Poetry 2015 and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.