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A Poem Exists Not to Tell But to Be

Teaching for a number years, I recall student complaints about the “difficulty” of poetry. “I don’t get it. What’s this supposed to be about?” I asked my students to try entering a poem for discovery about themselves as much as understanding that particular construction of words. Although my response felt right, it also left them confused.

Recently reading an interview with the poet Natalie Diaz, I found the perfect response to that oft-repeated question from the poetry uninitiated. Diaz answered interviewer and poet Kaveh Akbar’s question: “What I had to learn about poetry is that the poem wasn’t necessarily going to tell me something. It was going to be something that I learned on my own in the poem but maybe the next reader would learn something different.” The Diaz interview for those intrigued appears online on the Dive Dapper website.

Diaz’s response to Akbar’s question about poetry, particularly the aspect relating to the poem being, reminded that art does not always imitate life but becomes. A good poem and great reader of poetry merge into something new. The poem is.

Diaz’s words are also a wonderful entrance to writing poetry. Poets write not “to tell,” not to pronounce their particular view of the world but to create something this exists. I love the concept that a poem is born when the reader interacts with those words on the page, in the ether.


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