Another thing I want to get into a bit is that I think these days we both expect too much and too little of poetry.
Consider this: for centuries, for as long as we have had written records, really, the primary form of "fiction," of tale-telling in the so-called western world, was in verse. There were chronicles and such, but the first prose fiction you really get in Western Europe is at about the turn of the millenium. From Iceland. Other than that, the tales are all in verse. Poetry is the medium for storytelling, for keeping the stories alive. It is the thing done in halls when it is dark and cold outside. It is the thing that gains you entrance to a king's court, it is the thing that passes down all your lore and stories, all the things that keep your culture's soul alive. It is a primary form of entertainment. It, verse, is the primary form, I repeat, in which stories are communicated. Not prose, which is now the ubiquitous "respectable" form of storytelling it seems.
The long epics, the names after names of who came from whom and did what, the sacred histories of a people, were in verse. They're much easier to remember that way, for one thing. They are compact, tightly packed.
Now poetry is seen as marginal, frivolous. More on that, maybe, some other time. It is expected to be personal, not public. To be temporal, not timeless. To capture some moment, some feeling, some epiphany--not to contain a history and a people, the life of a hero or of big characters, characters as real to you or more as your family
But poetry now is also expected to perform significant duties, heavy duties for small words. A poem, if it is good, is now expected to change you. To hit you in the head, make your heart skip a beat, provide some revelation, take the cover off some corner of the world. And that's well and good, and poetry can do that. But frankly I don't always like that, because it's hard to feel so much. There are poets (Sharon Olds comes to mind) whose work is so good, but hard for me to read, because it is like my flesh is being torn open. You can't have that all the time, or I can't, because I'm busy enough trying to keep myself together without a poem coming in and fucking with me all the time.
Maybe also poetry can change you subtly, poem by poem. Because they are good and just because they are works of language, stories. Change you, become part of you, the way that everything you eat does. Giving you fuel to keep living, knitting into your flesh and bones gradually, so you wouldn't even notice hardly. Instead of transforming you drastically like Alice's cake, so that the world is a different shape, so that your body is reeling and uncertain of where it is or ought to be now. Poems that build in you and build on themselves, the true treasure-hoard of any people.
I want poems like that, I want poems that tell me a story. It was foolish, wasn't it, to think that I can't tell stories any more, being a poet. That that is a job for the "fiction" people, who are like some separate breed I don't have the attention span to keep up with. And it is not that such poems don't challenge you, make you laugh or make you sad. They just don't need to, and aren't meant to, fuck with you, you know? They're doing something else, they're telling a story.
Heh, there was a time, really not very long ago at all, when I thought that good poetry was about making some amazing line that would cave your head in with its mind-blowing aptness. About refiguring some little piece of the world some way in words so that you gasped at its simultaneous freshness and rightness. That is just one trick. A good trick but maybe a cheap one, flashy, like a bang and lights, that does startle your heart, admit it, make you aah inside. But there are lots of other tricks, that may be older, that may take more craft.
What about the trick of making a whole world live? About making a man, a woman, live? About making them live for centuries before the waking eyes of the people? About giving that gift, to a people? That's a grand gift, and will nourish for a long long time. It may be like the magic table in fairy tales, that you feast from and is still laden for you, always.
Those who can trap the world in apt lines do have my admiration, envy sometimes maybe. Those who make a world and make it live, have my abiding love and honor.
I shall probably clean this up; I'm tired and my head is fuzzy and usually when I read these things over they seem foolish and young and brash, my points too ill-defined or too sweeping and dismissive.