Issue 82, Winter 1981
I tell you, I am no more interested in poetry than the next fellow is. I mean, I can take it or leave it. On the other hand, once in a blue moon I come across a poem whose unfolding holds me for the distance. Not that it must be a very good poem, in mine or in someone else’s opinion. On the contrary, my enthusiasm is entirely a function of my hoping to detect a key insufficiency in a poem of no particular merit, of my intuiting a certain turning where the poet’s nerve—forget intelligence—failed him.
What I generally do in a case of this kind is rewrite the poem and then pass it off as my own. Not that anyone is ever the wiser, except perhaps the poet himself should it improbably happen that he discover my revision of his work. To begin with, poets don’t read much poetry. But more in my favor still, a stink would result in one’s appearing to lay claim to an excess one dared not show the courage to commit.
I have in mind a poem of rather contemporary vintage in which the poet tells of a day passed with the widow of a man with whom the poet had conducted a liaison of some duration.
An adulterous love affair, of course.
Now, the poet is herself married. Her spouse does or does not know of the poet’s illicit relation to the dead man. The same goes for the dead man’s wife. What I mean is—and what is meant by the poet in the poem—it is of no great importance whether or not these spouses were actually alert to the connection between the dead man and the poet. Please see that I am talking about foreknowledge—for in the course of the poem the widow finds out, whereas in the instance of the surviving husband (the one party who does not count very much), the cat’s out of the bag when the poem is written.
All right, let’s say published, then.
It doesn’t really count one way or the other, the husband, what he knows or doesn’t.
What happens is this. The poet and the widow are spending the day together at the widow’s sorting out the dead man’s letters, papers, journals, etc. They are being women together, friends, etc. Grieving lightly, making neat, drinking tea, pausing every so often to consider this and that, recite a choice passage, now and then weep.
Order, memory, fellowship.
When—you guessed it—there’s the wife, the widow, plucking from a carton a packet the dead man made of the poet’s letters of devotion.
Etc., etc., etc.