I sometimes experience pangs of insecurity when I
read poems in The
New Yorker or elsewhere. So much modern poetry is amorphous,
lacking rhyme, regular meter, conventional punctuation, and often, I
think, any clear meaning accessible to the reader who knows nothing about
the poet. It was reassuring, therefore, when the Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette published recently, as its poem of the week, a work by
Pittsburgh’s most celebrated contemporary poet. The poem was
well-structured, rhymed, and made a coherent point.
I am not a
badge-carrying deputy of the Poetry Police, classifying alleged poems into
“real” and “pseudo” categories, but I do feel that
one should not have to apologize for writing a poem that has some
structure to it. Moreover, I feel strongly that, if poetry is to be a
public art form, the poet has some obligation to give the reader a
fighting chance to figure out what the work is about, even if that means
supplying an explanation external to the poem itself. I have said that this poem is a defense of the traditional, not an
attack on the new. You may decide for yourself if this is a valid
characterization; there admittedly is some bitterness in the closing
This poem was written on March 8 and 9, 2003.
The first two lines came to me immediately after reading Dr. Hazo’s poem.
The rest of the poem required a bit more work. It was a temptation to make
the poem longer, but I thought that 12 lines made my point without
belaboring it and concluded that the poem was long enough. A few days
after I first set down the poem, I realized that I could rhyme
“offense” with “sense,” so, on 3/14/2003, I replaced the original
final two lines:
You’re not simply dense
If your poems make sense.
I hope this substitution is seen as an
By the way, May and September could clearly
have been replaced by other months. I don’t know why I chose these two
months, but I did so because it seemed like a good idea at the time; I
didn’t think much about it. Having subsequently thought about it, I
really have no reason to choose other months.