Short Thoughts on the Poem
Is the poem necessary? Who knows. Maybe to the person writing it, I hope.
By the nature of its apparent non-necessity, its goals are allowed to be different than anything else in life. That’s the real win. It can function broadly and freely. It can navigate the human mind without sacrificing itself to ideology or cause.
Which makes the poem unlike a piece of legislation. And unlike an instruction manual or language with clear aims.
In a poem, meaning accumulates. Often without reason and often without the pressure to find direction at all. Which is not to suggest that meaning simply rests there, but it is to say that the poem is more like a day. Allowing it to happen to you is more important than what happens there.
In his 1939 poem for W.B. Yeats, Auden thinks through this on the page. I’m sure some of us remember his declaration that “…poetry makes nothing happen.” And while I also believe it (which is why I started with the question I did) the lines following have always been more interesting to me.
“…it survives, / In the valley of its saying where executives / Would never want to tamper…it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”
What does he mean by “a mouth?” He means the human voice, I think. And that the poem is what carries and endures it for no reason other than letting it become recognizable to itself. As ugly, flirty, contradictory, beautiful—whatever it may be—the poem has the capacity to hold it (precisely because it asks little or nothing of it).
The poem holds the human voice without judgment. It presents. It does not suggest.
And for me, a poem is not its content or its subject matter. Those things are useless without the voice. Amazing and terrible things happen to all of us. That isn’t what makes you listen to another song about love. And it isn’t what makes you see another film about summer.
How the voice speaks is more important than who or what it speaks for.
The poem knows this. It can be the articulation of personal pressure beneath language. The energy you recognize when first meeting someone and choosing to stay regardless of what they have to say.