Someone asked, “What do you think of [Such & such a poet]?”

“The last time I saw him he borrowed forty bucks from me,” I said.

Of course that was just my facile attempt to side-step the expectation that I must judge the poet’s work, good or bad.

Poets, I believe, subvert the binary, especially all such formulaic ways of seeing the world, whenever possible. It was true the poet in question borrowed forty bucks, but that wasn’t really my point. The point was that the real world is so much infinitely more manifold than good or bad. I may not at the moment have any use for another poet’s poetic projects, but I might later. If I have confidence in my own work, that it will develop and advance and go the distance, then sooner or later it will democratically engage with other voices, whether I agree with them or not. We will end up on writers’ panels, on reading stages with others, at festivals, in reading series, on campuses and in the community, delivering our side to the public dialogue. We integrate the magazines and the bookshelves. If we want a more democratic culture, we have to go public. Poets, writers and artists ought to have that confidence in their own work, their own voices, in part because (particularly if we speak with minority, working class, gay or denied voices) our work represents.

All sincere poets, I happen to believe, make the world better precisely because on some level they are engaged in this subversion, diversifying POVs and eroding conformist worldviews. If you survive long enough, life might be generous with you and allow you to see the positive aspect of (self-admitted) boring work such as that of Kenneth Goldsmith—perhaps even Robert Frost. Reciprocate life’s manifold generosity by living long, subverting to the end.

Students regularly instruct me, looking into a poem which I shrugged off, thinking, “Really? That’s it?” where they scan usefulness or purpose which I missed. I’m taking a number, standing with everybody else in line waiting to pay. My thinking gets boxed in and standardized by habit and made ineffectual like anybody else’s. That’s how poetic diversity is useful.

Robert Desnos, Resistance fighter and Surrealist poet, who died in Theresienstadt concentration camp, 1945

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