Members of the construction team which built Poets House joined actor Bill Murray in May 2009 for the first poetry reading at 10 River Terrace.
Frequently, I spend my lunch hour at the bookstore browsing magazines and books. Today was one of those days, and as a consequence I happened on the book, The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter. The title is an attention-grabber and that’s why I picked up the book. I read the jacket and skimmed the first few pages, my habit for determining if a book merits further reading. Within those pages, I discovered a quote attributed to author Saul Bellow, “Poets have to dream, and dreaming in America is no cinch.”
BAM! (nod to Emeril) It’s a staggering bit of verbiage. I filed the quote in my cerebral database and later deposited it on a piece of scrap paper littering my car. I deemed it worthy of exploration, and that’s what I intend to do here.
First, what is a poet? Well, you’d be surprised (or maybe not) at the answers I found searching the World Wide Web. How does this answer suit you? A poet is a person who writes poetry. I hope you sighed, cursed, or blew a raspberry. One should never define a thing by using the thing to define it. How’s this? A poet is a person who writes verse. Okay, but so what? This is also a poor definition, but at least I have a basic understanding of what a poet does; however, I still do not know what a poet is. There is a difference!
A poet gazes on her culture and critically assesses it in her verse. She affirms and strengthens cultural platforms that empower everyone. A poet is not an imitator, a trend setter, an embellisher, nor a poser. A poet is not aloof, disengaged, entitled, nor apolitical. A poet supports change for a free, just, and sustainable society. It’s with this understanding that we can appreciate “Poets have to dream,” as it’s our poets who most frequently dream of better tomorrows (life without war, poverty, abuse, discrimination, etc.).
Why is dreaming in America so difficult? I think dreaming implies change, and change is not something everyone is willing to embrace. Struggles with change are illustrated by recent US news headlines on the topics of healthcare reform, finance reform, immigration reform, education reform, etc. Opposition to reform is strong. This is not a bad thing; it just is. One should study Hegelian Dialectic to know that there will always be a series of philosophical conflicts before there is an evolution of some sort. In this world, patience is the ultimate virtue and without patience dreaming is no cinch.
My inspiration for a Tang poem came from Liu Chang-ch’ing, a poet of the Middle Tang Dynasty. Eleven of his poems were collected in the popular anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems. Here are English translations of some of his poems. I was inspired by his poetry to write a Tang poem of my own.
smokey satin stones
there beyond the bamboo
light skates their polished bellies
their cool hardness tempts
chilly to the touch
though not from a rivulet
two go in a pocket for later reflection