I jot down my ideas for poems on pieces of scrap paper and then put them aside until I can work on them. If I had to average the amount of time I spend writing poems, it probably adds up to about one to two hours a week. I have a regimented style of living and I use a rotating list of "Things to Do" to keep me on track. Currently, "Writing Poetry" is in between "Study Spanish" and "Take a Walk." How much time to devote to each activity is always problematic. Should I take a walk for an hour? Two hours? How about a day-long hike? Poetry is no different and I have always wrestled with how much time to give it. Possibilities have ranged from 1-2 hours per week to 7-8 hours(read full-time job) per day. I never got up to 7-8 hours per day. Even 1-2 hours per week was and is sometimes difficult. In my youth, I admit to entertaining myself with notions of fame. Now that I am in my 50s, the dream of writing poems for high-paying publishing houses and a salivating public has been supplanted by a thoroughly mundane and realistic outlook. I still think I'm good, so I protect my ego by studying men like Du-Fu, a poet whose brilliance was recognized after his death. Ahh, hope springs eternal. So I plod along, producing a poem every now and again. An activity should be beneficial, however, so occasionally there is a reckoning. How much time I should devote to poetry? Should I devote any time at all to it? After all, there are other activities in my rotating list of “Things to Do.” Why should I waste my time writing poetry? What has it done for me?
Years ago, I volunteered for a scientific dig in the mountains of Utah. We were looking for evidence of mammoths and early hunters in the Manti La-Sal National Forest in Utah. In my poem “Event in Utah,” I recreate a scene that might have happened 10,000 years ago in those mountains. It involves the passage of a boy into manhood. A multitude of emotions drove the writing of this poem – awe, wonder, respect, amazement, humility. I had to take these emotions and examine why participating on a dig was causing them. Why, for example, did I feel awe as I held an arrowhead? The act of finding the origin of these emotions was really an exercise in finding my identity. In the case of the arrowhead, the origin of the emotions lay in the power of the arrowhead to transmit the history of man from our days of stone and hunting and gathering all the way down to me, with my gasoline powered car, cell phone, and apartment complex. My identity was wrapped up in the history of that arrowhead, and the finished poem became a realization and expression of that identity.
But really, shouldn’t I just get over myself? A friend of mine once dismissed the idea of going to Machu Pichu out of hand, asking "Why would I want to go see a bunch of ruins?" Then, looking at an abandoned building nearby, he pointed to it and added, "Look, there are some ruins. Why on earth would I want to go there?" Perhaps identity is overrated. Or perhaps it has nothing to do with history. Like my friend, like Emerson, perhaps I should be a “seeker with no past at my back.” Perhaps it is better, for example, to just look at the moon for a second and say, “Gee, the moon looks nice tonight” and then go inside and watch TV, rather than staring at it for fifteen minutes and asking, “Why am I drawn to the moon?” “Where does this feeling come from?” and then writing a poem to try to find out where that feeling is coming from. Why experience life on poetry? Why can’t I just surrender myself to experience…to simply experience something? Many go through life experiencing many feelings but never engaging their intellect to find the origin of those feelings. Should I be one of these people? Is this process of introspection and discovery something I can just shut off, or is it an aspect of me that is permanent? If it is something I cannot shut off, is it possible to obtain it elsewhere at a lower cost? At times, it does feel like rather than living, I am writing poetry. I drive the streets of Boston and look at a parking meter next to a tree in front of a hospital and words start stringing themselves together in my mind. And so it is that I sometimes think I should try to stop the words from coming... to survive without poetry, to experience life “straight.” What's so special about a parking meter next to a tree in front of a hospital?