My favorite poem is the one that I need at any given moment. Like medicine from a bottle I choose which one based on my ailment. If I want to believe in love it might be Neruda or something sufi. I never know what exactly will move me. I stock my shelves with cast-offs from friends. I go to the discount bookstore and pick up collections. Billy Collins prepares me to write after cleaning the house, and makes me feel oh so modern, whereas I've just come to know the perfected personalities of Fernando Pessoa. Poetry is the salve that keeps my soul and my body glued to one another. T.S. Eliot and I agree on very little when it comes to dogma, but I read him faithfully on Ash Wednesday and on random Tuesdays. Allen Ginsberg and I were born in the same city and although, somewhat subconsciously, I jealously misspell his name from time to time, I hear my journey reflected in the output of his mind. There are those of us who live in prose and there are those of us who live in poetry. We are the dreamers and we have our canon of gods. And within that each of us has our own select and changing pantheon.
Dorothy Parker taught me about life and invading the boys club but never did I get to sit in her physical light. I've thought of Sylvia Plath more than once while cleaning out the oven. I think of Arbus too, a poet of images who never felt strong enough to write a word. She gave that right to her brother instead. The poet and the poems, to me there is no limit for their presence in times of pain or searching. How sensitive souls continue to roam the earth! All poets are such a startling sign of life, like unknown stars falling in the night. Like trees growing quietly in the strong and constant light. Cycles of sky, cycles of feeling. Nothing makes me feel more alive than the sounds of these people who were all decidedly different and who occur again and again over periods of time. The dreamers, the visionaries, the home-bound and the vagabond, there is one path, but multitudes of roads.
Lately I go to hear more poetry, especially as an author, I feel it is my lucky privilege to keep up on who is saying what through lines of every style. I don't judge the technical perfection much and I'm not schooled enough to properly deconstruct. I'm one of those people who shows up for the experience. I lament the fact that when I worked on the Bowery I barely went to the poetry café but I was running the nightclub a few doors down and poetry and bar hours don't exactly coincide. So, to rectify my previous sins of lethargy and apathy I have grown to listen more and more. On New Year's day I went to the marathon reading at St. Mark's Church, the one that helps support their Poetry Project. I missed some of the big ones. I hope to all things green I don't die before witnessing Patti Smith in person! What I caught was moving and perfect for this particular new year. In less than five minutes poet after poet, hour after hour, they got up and shared the first public words of the new decade of this suddenly aging millennium. Illustrious many of them and unknown and emerging were others, poet after poet they dutifully rose to a blank moment waiting for its fulfillment. I heard samples of slam and allusions to Gertrude Stein. I felt falling words dislocated if only I would close my eyes. I changed positions and I changed my seat. I went out and breathed in the air and ran down the block to get something simple to eat. Hour after hour the poems ticked along with the clock and within this time I felt that the marathon had given me what I needed to have a new start.
I no longer bathe myself in waters of religion. I can no longer find the easy comfort I had as a child of rules and ideas I know not to be my own. The beauty of the poets is that they break down the thing that came before. They reinforce only the act of living and nothing more. Alive or dead, on a page or in a room, the poets are the ones to whom I continue to turn. I prefer them to prozac and to television but I must admit that sometimes my vice comes along with me. I don't feel guilty reading poets with a little scotch or a warm bed. I don't feel guilty at all because the beauty of these poets I adore is that many of them also knew that paradise was lost and that reclamation would forever be tied to the imperfection of being human. So, if the circuitous path takes me to lie for an extra moment, lazily considering the young man that might have sat beside Edna St. Vincent Millay while she wrote her sonnets, I allow that. If it moves me to virtue or to vice is of no concern to me as it would not have been to her. Poetry is the religion that does not judge the moment.