Arguments About Poetry

Bill Bly

My wife reads poems by this guy I know;
I find them charming, resonant and true
She thinks they are not poems at all, but just
Some words in funny shapes upon the page.
She does not fault his honesty, his eye,
His ear, the words themselves or what they say;
She only thinks a poem should be more
Than merely what it says or what it sees.
The words must bear not only weight but fruit:
Who reads must find as well as see and hear.
It ain't enough, she says, to point and say,
Hey, look at this -- a button in the mud.

I have a friend whose chapbooks pile my shelf;
His poems are opaque as leaves to me.
He says it doesn't matter what you write
At any given moment: poetry,
Like painting, is an ongoing, long-term thing.
He gave up fretting over single words,
Refuses utterly to interfere
With poetry's real action: to express
The inexpressible, the things we know
That cannot ever be put into words.
And so he just sets down what comes to him
No matter whence, or how, or what, or why.

I'm not sure what I think or feel about
These sharp, intelligent imperatives:
In this aesthetic argument I'm dumb,
Or rather simply tongue-tied and abashed.
I think I know what poetry can be
And has been and may someday be again:
A word we say among ourselves to tell
Each other who we are, to recognize
Each other in the dark, to grab and hold
Each other's hand or heart or mind and say
Yes. This is what we come from, where we go.
We're taking you with us. Pay attention.

©1995 Bill Bly.
This poem originally appeared in Explorations '95.

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