Neruda starts his poem, “The Poet’s Obligation/Deber del poeta”, as follows:
To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or dry prison cell,
to him I come, and without speaking or looking
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a long rumble of thunder adds itself
to the weight of the planet and the foam,
the groaning rivers of the ocean rise,
the star vibrates quickly in its corona
and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating.
To me, the obligation of the poet is a matter of discourse that depends on the poet’s own navigation through life, along with his/her desire to attend to the word, to distill a simple truth down to an even simpler form. It begins as a personal obligation to make oneself available as the word flows through; from there it’s a individual journey that unfolds between the poet and the word itself.
I know that the word “poet” throws people. Recently, kids in my Monday workshop were surprised when they heard I write poems. To them, a poet was, among other things, “an old man with no hair and tuna breath who wears shabby clothes and goes around acting snooty to everyone.” I couldn’t help but laugh, knowing of course that somewhere, the very poet they described was opening another can of tuna and putting on a moth-eaten sweater.
It doesn’t matter if I use “writer”, “artist”, or just “person”; I’ll stick with “poet” because it was Neruda’s poem that started the thought this morning. All I know is that my thoughts on the “poet’s obligation”, outlined above, are singular, narrow, and at the mercy of my own limited, Ameri-centric perspective. I’ll never make the case that I know the answers, or that anyone knows the answers. The best I can do, or the best I’ll try to do, is to serve as a channel and let the answers come through from any number of sources.
Which brings me to one of the reasons for this post. Starting Friday – perhaps for those “not listening to the sea”, as Neruda wrote – I’m going to post the first in a series of interviews with poets and writers. While the interview will appear here, I’ll also be posting a selection of the writer’s poems on the Creative page. The interviews will discuss process, form, desire, inspiration, triggers, wells – everything that prompts the word to flow from air to mind to hand to paper to eyes to heart to soul.
In posting the interviews on Friday, I’ll be moving the normal “Guest Writer” feature to Tuesdays, starting tomorrow. That way guest writers will still have the space on the site they deserve before pieces from other writers go up.
Finally, I encourage you to comment on this post, and let me know your thoughts on the poet’s obligation.