April is National Poetry Month.
Does it matter?
It matters to me because I was first and foremost a poet, from my very early days. I was proud to call myself that, it was a title for me, an identity, something that set me apart from others. I could play guitar, albeit poorly, I could sing, and I wrote poetry. I put my heart on paper and bled my very soul.
I was a bit dramatic.
I don’t remember not writing, hunched over notebooks, scraps of paper, diaries, recording my life and joys and traumas in one of my only outlets. It was the only power I had, creating worlds, recording events, finding some escape with a skill that, as far as I knew, not many others had. The fact that not too many people understood it, or valued it, made it somehow more enticing. They didn’t like it because they didn’t understand it. They made no effort to understand it. I still kind of feel that way, actually.
Years later I would major in Creative Writing, with a focus on poetry. One of the worst mistakes I ever made, by the way. It placed a watcher on my shoulder I never had before, it silenced my voice, took my muse, and left me a shell of a person. In fairness, the watcher was the gasoline, but the excessive, crippling drunkenness and black depression was the match that blew it all up. I did not get my degree.
It was not all bad though, it gave me stories I managed to write to long term memory.
I transferred to UC Santa Cruz from Ohlone Junior College in Fremont, CA. I was accepted with the understanding that I complete in summer session two courses I missed, astronomy and statistics. Math and I are not friends, it’s just a jerk, actually, so this was not a good thing for me.
Sitting in my seat, I looked around the room and saw 40-some people, all of them artists, staring at the professor like deer in the headlights, trembling slightly and clutching a copy of “Leaves of Grass” all of us simply not wired this way, all of us taking General Education classes in the summertime.
That fall semester, UCSC canceled Creative Writing and I, and all the other poets were lost. We sat under the shade of a tree, dressed in black, shunning the sun the Math majors were prancing in, chain-smoking and silent. In hindsight, this is a pretty funny picture.
So a quick romp in and out of San Francisco State, and that was that. No more hope of a degree, no more poetry in my heart, a whole lot of booze.
It took 25 years to get this back. Twenty-five years later I finally got my muse back.
And now, it is National Poetry Month.
Does anyone still care?
I was just at City Lights bookstore here in San Francisco for the 100th birthday party of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It was packed with people, blocking the streets, crowding the store, an entire day of poetry readings and positive, glowing, happy energy. People just beaming, surrounded by like minds.
Some of those people were poets, I’m sure, some not. It doesn’t matter. What brought them there was poetry and the celebration of this amazing man and the haven he created. He just released a new book, at 100. I have released one in 51 years. I’ll get right on that.
Poetry does matter. It matters like the air we breathe, like laughter, like tears, like fire, like rage. It matters to every abused child who uses it to escape.
Worlds are built. People are created. Flight and magic and vengeance and mirth made real.
Do you write? Do you want to? Then write, for crying out loud! Who cares if it’s good? Does it make you happy? Were you filled in some way by writing it? Then write more. Keep it private if you like, or show it to only those people you trust to hold it gently.
If you write and you would like to share it, do put it in the comments. I love to see poetry proudly offered. I love to see art of any kind.
I’ve included a link to my book as well.
My advice to you, for what it’s worth, whatever you do, whatever your plans, for fuck’s sake don’t take a poetry class!