It’s the poet Walt Whitman’s birthday today. In the spirit of his poetics, I’ve been working on a poem that was first inspired by my own kids and then became about other young adults I know, then millennials: a whole generation. Not every culture, not every situation, certainly not all of America, but still, broad. Many poets and academics would advise me not to speak too directly, not to preach, not to generalize. That’s the edge for me- speaking directly without pontificating. Telling my truth without telling others what to believe.
I’m no Walt Whitman but I do like to try and extend my reach sometimes, to go beyond my immediate concerns, universal though some of them may be, and write lines that address the world- but are still anchored in the quotidian. Quite a challenge, and most likely beyond my skill set, but worth trying. I’m inspired by this quote by the wonderful poet Eve Joseph:
“I like the idea that a successful poem may be a flawed one that comes from an authentic place. A poem that holds fragility and imperfection. In a strange way, I would say that my most successful poems feel as if they have come “through” me and not “from me.” What better reason to make the attempt?”
(From this collection of interviews by the Griffin Poetry Prize finalists, in the Toronto Star. )
While acknowledging and lamenting Whitman’s undisputed racism, sexism, and imperialism, reading his poetry can certainly feel at times as if something greater than himself was flowing through the very body he so eloquently celebrates: a poetry imperfect at times, but always authentic.