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.
It’s a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.
A poet should always be ‘collaborating’ with his public, but this public, in the mass, cannot make itself heard, and he has to guess at its requirements and its criticisms.
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.
I was appointed Poet Laureate. It came totally out of the blue because most Poet Laureates had been considerably older than I. It was not something that I even had begun to dream about!
As things are, and as fundamentally they must always be, poetry is not a career, but a mug’s game. No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written: He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing.
I started earning a living as a poet rather early on.
The kind of poet who founds and reconstitutes values is somebody like Yeats or Whitman – these are public value-founders.
The poet is like the earth’s shadow. The sun moves, and the poet writes something down.
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.