Daily Archives: May 24, 2005

Cummings on Poetry

A tag line on a message from a discussion group included part of a quote from e.e. cummings that I have tacked on my wall to remind me of what I’m supposed to be doing as a poet.

I first encountered it, strangely enough, in the foreward to Critical Path written by R. Buckminster Fuller. He found inspiration in this simple set of instructions, and so do I.

A Poet’s Advice

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people; but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — menas to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we are not poets.

If at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t. It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

— e.e. cummings

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Preparation for the journey

What is required of me, that you will listen
and subsequently think on what I’ve said?
No matter how inane a task, my mission
will be to fulfill that desire, instead
of simply guessing what you like to read
then stabbing it out with electron pen,
my want to please forgoing style for speed
and coming up still short, time and again.

The problem is, of course, that just your eyes
or ears, in single sense, are not enough;
if we are to peer through the world’s disguise
together, where the veils are thick and rough,
the whole of your perception must be used.
I know, it is presumptive that I ask.
After all, you likely did not choose
to simply browse, and then be lain this task.

But think on it, before you make reply;
and just imagine what may come of it.
With not much effort more, man learned to fly —
to falter now would mark us hypocrites.
The world in song, and words, and rhyme awaits,
its melody unheard for many years;
let not our time be wasted in debates
or pared away by worry, doubt or fears.

What is required of you? Your mind and heart,
a willingness to try, to fail, to laugh.
Just beyond the horizon’s where we’ll start,
and each day get no closer than by half.
Companions for the journey must decide
before they step one foot upon the trail
if there’s a chance their paths won’t coincide
five miles anon, lest their quest fail.

So let’s be sure we travel the same road:
to find out, if we can, the reasons why,
discovering an underlying code
that fuels the universe. At least, to try
to hear songs long forgotten by mankind,
those melodies connecting us as one.
Such treasures should be worthwhile things to find;
if we agree on that, our quest’s begun.

24 May 2005

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