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enlarge the range of what you can see and feel.
One more thing is important: if a poem doesn’t
speak to you, set it aside. Find one that does.
No one will like all poems any more than one
person will like all pieces of music.
Speaking of music, are song lyrics often considered poetry? Absolutely. Leonard Cohen’s
lyrics, Bob Dylan’s, the Grateful Dead’s, have
all been published as poetry. The kind of
poem I write is called lyric poetry — originally, all poems were sung to some strummed
lyre, or koto, or drum.
Looking back on your life, was there a poem or a
book of poems that strongly affected you? The
first book I bought as a young girl was a book
of Japanese haiku, one of those small, one-dollar books from Peter Pauper Press. In fifth
grade, I fell in love with Walter de la Mare’s
“The Listeners.” It’s a marvelous evocation of the
mysterious life all around us, the life we can’t ever
know but feel is there. That poem raised in me a
sense of vastness I still turn to poems to find.
Regarding the future, is technology threatening poetry? I’m not worried. As long as poetry
is read at weddings and funerals, poetry is
fine. When young people fall in love and write
poetry to one another, poetry is fine. In our
darkest moments, poetry still is what tells us
we’re not alone. Over 10 years ago, a poem of
mine appeared in The New Yorker — which has
a circulation of around a million readers. I still
get letters about it. One came from a woman
who found the poem on her late mother’s
refrigerator door and read it at her memorial
service. And there are ways that technology
helps keep poetry alive. Technology’s a stamp,
not a rival letter. One line I wrote has been
tweeted all over the world, mostly it seems by
young people, and it just keeps going. It’s a line
I’d never have guessed would have a life of its
own, “How fragile we are bet ween the few good
moments.” I’ve tried to imagine what note it
strikes. I think it allows space for a person to
acknowledge the harder patches of a life. If one
person admits they feel fragile, others can feel
less solitary in their own fears or grief. Even in
happiness, poems keep us company; knowing
you aren’t alone in itself helps people. It tells us
our fates and blows are shared by all. M