I am on the Board of Trustees of West Chester University and in that capacity was asked to make a few comments at the annual Poetry Conference in June, which is the largest of its kind in the country.
When Kim asked me to say a few words representing the Board of Trustees, it got me thinking about this poetry conference, what it means for the university, and some of my own past, and what it means to dedicate your life to the arts, which most of you did, and I did not.
This conference is the largest of its kind in the country and serves to enhance the reputation of West Chester, with luminaries in the field from all over the world converging here at the university. But beyond that, it caused me to reflect back many years ago when I returned to New York after college and serving in the Marines, and took a couple of months off to decide whether to go to Dublin and live in a garret and write novels, or get in to advertising. I went on a couple of interviews, got a job, and 40 years flashed by.
Although the copywriters and art directors in creative departments of advertising agencies have been referred to as the artists and writers of industry, their creations, some of which become part of popular culture, serve to create profits for the client companies, as compared to writers of fiction and poets, who are seeking either a personal or universal truth.
When a group of people like you get together there is a different vibe in the room, than when business people get together, some of whom would sell their grandmothers for more profit.
I have noticed a similarity in what psychoanalysts do, and what poets and artists do.
Freud said, “it’s all in Doestoevsky”, by which I think he meant every human emotion he might deal with in psychoanalysis could be found in the novel. He also once said to a patient in Vienna, “the best I can do is transform serious psychosis into ordinary human misery”. Poets condense what it might take novelists 400 pages to express, and that to me, is the power of poetry.
And now, I am going to read a poem.
An Old Poet’s View from the Departure Platform
(On my eightieth birthday)
By Anne Stevenson
I can’t like poems that purposely muddy the waters,
That confuse in order to impress;
Or slink to the page in nothing but stockings and garters
To expose themselves and confess.
I wince at poems whose lazy prosodical morals
Beget illegitimate rhymes.
Instances of incest, singulars mating with plurals
Are not minor errors, they are crimes.
I wave off turbulent poems in which reason and feeling
Stand off like water and oil.
As if prose were for sense, poems for howling or squealing,
Steam-events thinking would spoil.
Professional poems in incomprehensible argot
Unsettle me more and more –
Words about words about words to pamper the ego
Of some theoretical bore.
I gaze over miles and miles of cut up prose,
Uncomfortable troubles, sad lives.
They smother in sand the fire that is one with the rose.
The seed, not the flower survives.