The fact that a book like Claudia Rankine’s Citizen has sold a half-million copies astounds me. I think readers are hungry for the urgency and training that a poet brings to fusing together the disparate puzzle pieces of our twisted mediated interior worlds. Today, so much of how people interact with information and entertainment is through text. The infusion of endless think pieces, copy, click bait, advertising—say what you will, but these are the domains that poetry as the research and development wing of language has a claim to best distill, undermine, propel, enliven. Poets are the people tasked with making love to language, to make it feel drunk, embodied, out of body. Increasingly, I think of social media as a form of poetry, not the other way around. Doesn’t mean it’s always good or useful or worthwhile, but since when were poems always that.
Finally, and this is perhaps most exciting to me, I think poetry is in this futuristic time zone where it’s running like six seconds ahead of the rest of reality—sometimes it feels like even six months ahead. By which I mean, the conversations I’ve been hearing lately in the poetry community end up playing themselves out in the larger culture.
I read my “Oregon Trail” poem from the new book almost every reading—its language and phrasing lifted almost absolutely from the old computer game, with my admittedly perverted finesse added in. You should see people come up to me afterwards like I’ve been talking about one of their long lost relatives! They really have so much emotion invested in remembering these things and it’s not just nostalgia. It’s not about irony, pop, kitsch, or condescension. There’s real passion and tenderness in their voice when they talk about these cultural tokens. These things are wrapped around all of our memories. And it’s time to unwrap them.
It will tend to be committed to the idea that rather than reflecting, writing conjures/makes realities.
Steer toward the place of maximum energy. How small can the beginning of your story be based on your weird obsessions you don't have to justify?