Can I Pay for that with a Poem?
Posted on September 16, 2012
Right now, I’m sitting outside of my apartment listening to Miles Davis’ “A Kind of Blue.” Hendrix, my dog, is watching the night’s sky, and I’m taking a break from a piece I’m writing on the LA poet laureate. I need to take a break and kind of think away from the page, away from the assignment, to reorient my thoughts.
So, I’ve been trying very hard, over this last month, to find ways to make writing pay. To use words as commerce, as funding for a life. But I find myself, right now, wondering about poetry. It’s a form that I love, but it’s a form that no one, hardly, will pay for. And I have found that I’ve been writing less and less poetry.
Well, what is the point of poetry? What is the point of writing it?
When I was in graduate school, I thought about switching from a concentration in Fiction to Poetry. But in the end, I sort of thought about poetry in a similar way to a hydrogen car. Lol, let me explain. The way I understand a hydrogen car is that the by-product of the reaction that takes place is that water is produced. All this machinery working hard to power an automobile, to have an object move us around the grid, and it produces water — the building block to life. I sort of thought about poetry in that way. That when I was writing fiction, the machinery pumping, the byproduct was poetry. That I would find the poetic moment by working at something else, and it was difficult to force that moment.
But now that I am out in the world, trying to survive without graduate school, I am starting to realize I had it all wrong — poetry is the goal. It is a job that is “unproductive” and financially suicidal, but it provides me with so much spiritual satisfaction. When I find the poetic moment, today, it strikes me as something so valuable and rare that it almost startles me. I want to keep this in my life. I want to cultivate these moments rather than allow them to startle me.
So, the other night, I found one of these moments at 2:00 a.m. when I was looking for a cab somewhere just outside of Downtown Long Beach. I called a cab about a half an hour earlier, and I was staring at my phone, waiting for them to let me know they arrived. I needed to get home. It was way too late. So, finally, my phone rang, and I bolted out the door and stepped outside to find the cab.
Nothing there though. I kept walking down the streets, looking for the cab. It was late. The neon lights from a liquor store were blinking like eyelids, and I was lost. I didn’t even know what street I was on, and, suddenly, I was struck with a sense of fear — was I in a dangerous part of town?
I looked around to gage my surroundings. A woman walked out of the liquor store, banging on a pack of cigarettes. I looked into a puddle, and I saw a reflection of the sky, the few visible stars mirrored in the water, when a car drove through it, scattering the parallel world. I looked up, and I noticed the actual stars for the first time in nearly three weeks. And across the street, two men were sitting on a bus stop, rapping.
I was no longer scared. Then the cab pulled up and brought me home.
Whether or not I was successful in relating the significance of that moment, it was something I treasure, because most of the time I’m just rolling stones up a mountain and watching them fall back down. I treasure the moment that meant nothing and everything at the same time.