Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?
Yes. Very much. I started out seeing poetry as an inward-looking act, a way for the poet to make sense of the world and their engagement with it, of their own mind and emotions. I fell in love back then with the confessional poets, such as Sexton, Plath, MacEwan. Those were perspectives that hadn’t been heard (not really heard, though they had at times been expressed) before.
I’ve heard confessional poetry glossed over (and I notice this is often by men) as if it were symbolic of self-indulgence. But what confessional poets, of all genders, were doing was ground-breaking, not only, often, in style, but by forcing space in the publishing world and yelling to everyone who could hear: I am valid. My perspective counts. My life counts.
The fact that so many of the confessional poets from that era were lost to mental illness may speak, in part, to the toll that having to get up and continually yell something so basic, just to gain the right to share your art, takes on an artist.
Now, my love is more for the sharing of the broader experience. I try to read diversely, although I admit to having a particularly large amount of shelf space allocated to queer poetry and fiction. What I want from poetry now is not just a resonating and deep experience of language, but to delve into and understand the points at which we connect as humans. If we can find those, then, outward from them, we can start to appreciate how and why we vary. How can I possibly know someone else’s life, their experience? But I if I read of it well, in so doing, I become a bit more human every day.
I’ve also come to realize that the impact a poem or a book of poetry has cannot be foreseen from initial reactions (or lack of them) from readers or critics. You have to wait to see how its life turns out. Often, you’ll have to wait much longer than your own life. A good book of poetry will keep communicating with people in different situations and times, as long as it remains in existence for someone to stumble across and engage with.