We must not ask the poets.

Just yesterday I sat at my desk, a clutter of papers to edit, I sat and read a poem, then stopped to consider word choice.  Perhaps this word did not fit, perhaps it seems to pull the imagery to some new location, not yet seen, perhaps instead it just doesn’t add up.  It is times like these, as an editor that we are trained to look for, moments of seemingly lost or skewed vision.  However as I sat, that notorious red pen at the ready, I hovered over the word and paused.  I was reminded of a quote by Howard Nemerov, “You never ask a poet what he means, you tell him!”  I smiled and considered the thought.  perhaps yes, this word had value, and I, the editor, god of my own dusty little universe, I was going to find it.  Find the meaning of the words placement, how could one do this?

In this thought process it occurred to me that far too often we sit and pine, as readers, wishing desperately to ask Shakespeare, Bukowski or Blake, (the poet here is oddly unimportant) what it is they meant by this particular bit of verbiage.  We spend hours pouring over works only to stumble upon a word that doesn’t seem to fit.  Then we are tormented by the need to know, the need to see.  Yet perhaps it is in death that the poets offers a final gift, the greatest gift.  They give us the inability to turn for help.  We cannot ask why or what, and so we must find it for ourselves.  It would be far too easy to ask why this word was used, but the true beauty of the word is the way in which its use forces us to look deeper into this world created for your viewing.  By the utilization of some thing which may be more difficult to grasp the reader must explore this world for himself, it is no longer enough to only observe as a casual viewer.  This is the poets final gift, and it is one of great value.  Do not be so quick to ‘fix’, do not be so hasty to overlook.  You may miss worlds of wonder, worlds that are clearly beyond your imagining.


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