In order for poetry to mean anything in America it has to bleed.
No one wants to read the lamotrigine-fueled diaries of a privileged snob from her self-reported suburban inferno. No one wants to read about how comparable she feels to Sylvia Plath, at least in the sense of sharing “twin” emotional complexes. Or how inspiring she finds Renaissance philosophers with names as pretentious as their intellectual disciplines. And honestly I don’t either. I can’t even blame them.
There are better things to read about.
People want dignity! Blood on the burning flag! To earn your words by fighting for them makes a true American Hero. This is the Dream people die for— coming to life in these handwritten stories of survival scrawled in sweat. Work for the prize of being loved. Look death in the eyes and then write the hell about what it looked like. We all want to know. I mean, come on, don’t you?
Poetry is becoming a competition in tragedy. Maybe it always has been. Maybe that’s why we even bother to read it in the first place. At least that’s why I do. To sink my teeth into something real.
War births beauty and I have nothing to offer but my dollhouse melodrama. My piles of notebooks filled with lavender sky and faint music and first love and I never struggled, at least not like them. Nothing holds a candle to the piles of bodies memorialized on paper. The unburied dead, the poverty of a broken system. I call myself a poet for what I see. Yet I’ve seen nothing in comparison. Nothing.
That’s the way it is and the way it should be. I won’t play devil’s advocate. I’ll never have the vocabulary to capture a struggle I’ve never known. It’s not something you pick up and learn. This isn’t Rosetta Stone. I’ve never had to rage against. I thank my lucky stars for that. I got damn lucky after all.
But I hope there’s someone out there who still needs lavender sky and faint music and first love. And maybe even a little I miss being seventeen or peach pits in the grass or I knew I’d love you eventually. That maybe there’s still some sort of market for that, someone who’s tired of reading about the heroes some of us can never become.
Not all poets are heroes. Some of us just are.
And so we wave our white flags in surrender, still perfectly creased from the box they arrived in.