Why do I love poetry? Well, it’s none of the usual—beautiful words, lofty thoughts, noble sentiments. I can get all that from Tolstoy or the Bible. No, I love poetry, good poetry, because it is efficient. In a few great lines one can become aware of something he, or she might have never thought of before. This sudden realization, a hinting at some sublime truth, reminds me of what Zen Buddhists strive for: satori a sudden enlightenment. And it does not have to be something new, just a different angle on looking at a human condition. For example, in ‘to be or not to be’ Shakespeare catches in just 6 words a question that has no doubt crossed billions of minds across the centuries—to go on living or pack it in. He then goes on in one of the most profound poems ever written to delineate the pros and cons of suicide. And writing this just now I had my own little satori and realized why he is such a great writer that we still read his words 400 years after his death: because he captures that existential angst so well, so ‘efficiently’.
Of course, this ‘satori’ effect can only hold true if your reader has some idea what you’re writing about. And this is the problem with a lot of poetry today, along with much of fiction, most modern art and atonal music: the recipients have no idea what the hell to make of it. I blame Finnegan’s Wake and a few poets I won’t name for this ‘crisis of meaning’. And those poets whose writing endures, like Homer and Will and the psalmists, did not go out of their way to be obscure, pedantic, recondite. The great poets are eternal because they speak to human truths which do not change with time; and their writing may range from the simple to the sublime, but it is always trying to ‘awaken’ us. So too I try to do so, in the poems which ‘come’ to me, because in a way I AM BEING ENLIGHTENED AS I WRITE THEM, and that is something I cannot explain, but am grateful for it . I learned as a young man over 40 years ago that the problem with life is not that it’s meaningless, absurd, soulless—the problem is that there is so much meaning to our sentient existence that the best of us can only grasp a bit here and a bit there. My poems are simply written, but I hope not simple minded.