Why I (Do Not) Write Poetry
Copyright © by Laura Winton, 1/27/01
[reprinted from www.karawane.org

  I do not write poetry to communicate.  If you want to communicate something to someone, write them a letter, post a manifesto in laundromats and on telephone poles, or call a talk radio show.  More people will receive your message than read your poetry.
   I do not write poetry to describe things:  a perfect day, a flower, my grandmotherís warm cookie-baking kitchen.  Artists who paint pictures of flowers end up selling their work out of trucks in a K-Mart parking lot.  Dancers who act things out are mimes.  Other artists have figured out ways to express their vision without strict description.
  You say live in the world, engage it.  The world around me is too cynical for hearts and flowers and pretty little words.  They are too hardened to wars and hatred and have been told for too long that they are racist, materialistic, and worse.  They have already stopped listening.  We have to find new ways to get our point across.
  There are in my world, however, new things, new metaphors, new forces shaping our understanding that the poets who came before us could only dream of and could not utter without being thought ridiculous.
The Surrealists said write from the subconscious.  I say to my audience, read from there, too.  There is more to this world than what your waking mind occupies itself with.
  Inevitably someone will say that this encourages "art for art's sake" to the exclusion of making a statement with art.  And those people will accuse you of cowardice.
  The Revolution is not coming.  Political imperialism, the thing that has spurred most of the revolutions of the the past three centuries, is all but gone, replaced with cultural and economic imperialism or home-based tyranny.  The new revolutions will not be spectacular.  They will be mundane, fought in the world of the mundane, in every day life.  The new revolutions will not be comrades fighting side by side.  They will be people holding their ground--intellectually, economically, politically--and struggling to regain a bit of their old ground.  The new revolutions will begin, as all revolutions do, in our minds and our consciousness.  And it becomes even more critical that we build ourselves up for the challenges.  Creativity is the key.  You cannot create that which you cannot dream of.
  I say, too, that if you are writing from your subconscious, the core of who you are, then it is inevitable that you will write something that is somehow political.  Modern life, despite the promise it offers, also carries the destruction of creativity and devaluation of the individual, the spirit, and the consciousness.  Yet there is something inside you that will come out when you open up your subconscious.  We should work to make our lives a waking dream state, and thus to be close to our creativity and close to our TRUE selves.  Then we are open to joy, which comes from that sense of authenticity and creativity. 
  Readers do not need every detail and subtlety told to them.  Television fills in all the blanks, leaving us empty of ourselves, our own intellects, and our own private thoughts.  The counterrevolution will be televised.  And it will be blared from loudspeakers atop light posts downtown intended to pacify hoodlums.  The longer you are kept outside of your own head by your walkman, your cell phone, and the million other things trying to fill you up, to fill in all your blanks, the more estranged from yourself, your god, your hopes and desires, etc. you will be.  By not drawing an exact picture for my readers, I want them to rediscover how to fill in their own blanks.
  When the reader or the audience fills things in for themselves, the have become engaged in my work, put themselves into it, and THEN and only then, have I truly communicated with them.
  For all of these reasons, I do not write narrative or descriptive poetry.  You will never see a plot in one of my poems.  You will see one or several central thoughts and a flurry of images winding themselves around those thoughts. You might see a disjointed syntax which reflects disjointedness or displacement within the world. I write poetry to keep creatively fit, and to discover and express what cannot be done in any other way.

Return to Bylines

Bookmark and Share