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.
Ginsberg’s Collected Poems contains a wonderful poem about making it with Neal Cassady.
I became a poet in Pittsburgh. When I lived in the South, I was a basketball player and primarily a jock. An English teacher essentially suggested that I send the poems that I’d been writing – really just for him – to a few programs, so that when I wound up in Pittsburgh, it’s where I figured out that I could actually be a poet.
The number of people writing poems is vast, and their reasons for doing so are many, that much can be surmised from the stacks of submissions.
The idea of a pseudonym had been flitting around my brain for a long time, along with its cognate, disappearance. In the 1980s, I published some poems under a pen name in a literary magazine to see what it would feel like. It was fun. It was even a little thrilling.
My own journey in becoming a poet began with memory – with the need to record and hold on to what was being lost. One of my earliest poems, ‘Give and Take,’ was about my Aunt Sugar, how I was losing her to her memory loss.
Even famous poets such as Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams were rarely asked to read their poems.
I had written here and there about my mother in my poems. There are poems for her in my first and second books.
Pretty much the day I stopped being laureate, the poems that had been few and far between came back to me, like birds in the evening nesting in a tree.
Poems in a way are spells against death. They are milestones, to see where you were then from where you are now. To perpetuate your feelings, to establish them. If you have in any way touched the central heart of mankind’s feelings, you’ll survive.