A real diehard, indestructible, irresolvable obsession in a poet is nothing less than a blessing. The poet with an obsession never has to search for subject matter. It is always right there, welling up like an Artesian spring on a piece of property with bad drainage. It is a pressing subject that subjectively expresses; it will infiltrate the innocent description of a cloud and inveigle its way into the memory of a distant city. Emily Dickinson's critics say that death was her "flood subject," the theme that electrified her language whenever she approaches it. A poet without a true obsession, a foundational fracture, a mythic would, may have too much time to think. The poet without a compelling, half-conscious story of the world may not have a heat source catalytic enough to channel into the work of a lifetime.
Passion is the greatest gift a poet can have, and nobody is mildly obsessed. Violence of feeling can compensate for many other weaknesses in a writer. Stanley Kunitz advises young poets to polarize their contradictions, which we might translate to mean, "cultivate your obsession." . . .
In the work of a good poet, it is usually possible to discern one or two characteristic emotional zones in which he thrives: melancholy, rage, pity, vengeful rationality, seduction. A mature poet may not know how to command obsession, but understands how to transfuse material into it and then to surrender. The obsessed psyche knows unerringly where to go, like a Geiger counter to uranium, or a dog to his master's grave. Lucky dog, to have a master. - Tony Hoagland
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