I think a lot of writers have lost track of the fact that without pleasure, there is no reason to read on. …at the end of the day, the message you pick as an artist is only your secondary responsibility. Philosophy takes better care of pure thoughts than poetry ever can. So does criticism. What poets do that philosophers cannot is let our readers experience manners of thinking that they would not have access to on their own. The way leaps and transfusions and associations lead a mind from thought to thought. And then, once a reader has experienced a poem’s manner of thinking, the reader can use that manner of thinking in their own head, with their own thoughts, whenever they want. When I read your poems…I get the sensation that I’m making eye contact with someone else a thousand feet away, and we’re both using x-ray sniper scopes that let us see one another’s optic nerves. I hope that I can one day produce that sensation in language myself. Our primary job as poets is to make people more creative, to make them better thinkers, much more than give them any specific set of thoughts.
And good luck convincing anyone, obscurantist poet, to try out your brain if it seems like a hostile place. Poetry is a game of compassion, and if you give people fun, their hearts will open to you.
But maybe it’s a whole lot simpler than all of this. I like making people smile. So shoot me.
My mother often justifies many of my excesses by saying, “But Max, you are a poet!” This somehow comforts me, every time.
But I do believe in distance. And a belief in distance requires, for me at least, an attempt to span that distance, no matter how futile I understand those attempts to be.
In his A Defense of Poetry, Percy Bysshe Shelley says, “Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitude of things.” Maybe, if it’s language, as we use it every day, that fills us with that sense of distance, maybe too it can be poetic language, or more precisely metaphorical language, that might allow us to feel closeness, intimacy, love.
There’s also something to be said for poetry’s inbuilt wisdom when it comes to matters of mortality. I mean, as I mentioned before, no art ends as much as poetry does—line endings, clause, phrase, and sentence endings, stanza endings, section endings, page endings, poem endings, book endings… And for so long, poetry has sought to limn those endings with sonic devices such as rhyme. Plus, poems, like life, are often shockingly short.
- Max Ritvo