I sometimes talk about the making of a poem within the poem.
The first thing I tried to do in the months after losing my mother was to write a poem. I found myself turning to poetry in the way so many people do – to make sense of losses. And I wrote pretty bad poems about it. But it did feel that the poem was the only place that could hold this grief.
To a poet the mere making of a poem can seem to solve the problem of truth, but only a problem of art is solved in poetry.
I feel like I am in the service of the poem. The poem isn’t something I make. The poem is something I serve.
I have experienced healing through other writers’ poetry, but there’s no way I can sit down to write in the hope a poem will have healing potential. If I do, I’ll write a bad poem.
The idea of how to read a poem is based on the idea that poetry needs you as a reader. That the experience of poetry, the meaning in poetry, is a kind of circuit that takes place between a poet, a poem and a reader, and that meaning doesn’t exist or inhere in poems alone.
As I remember, the first real poem I wrote was about the wheat fields between Spokane and Pullman, to the south.
Poetry is my cheap means of transportation. By the end of the poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield.
I think the biggest thing that I have to do is to remind people that poetry is there for us to turn to not only to remind us that we’re not alone – for example, if we are grieving the loss of someone – but also to help us celebrate our joys. That’s why so many people I know who’ve gotten married will have a poem read at the wedding.
Ginsberg’s Collected Poems contains a wonderful poem about making it with Neal Cassady.