[lit-ideas] Poetry and Madness

  • From: "Mike Geary" <atlas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2006 00:57:39 -0500

Whenever I start thinking seriously about poetry I turn to Kenneth Koch.  The 
following is from his poem "What's American About American Poetry."

"Once I taught polar bears to write poetry. After class each week (it was once 
a week) I came home to bed. The work was extremely tiring. The bears tried to 
maul me and for months refused to write a single word. If refused is the right 
term to use for creatures who had no idea what I was doing and what I wanted 
them to do. One day, however, it was in early April, when the snow had begun to 
melt and the cities were full of bright visions on windowglass, the bears grew 
quieter and I believed that I had begun to get through to them. One female bear 
came up to me and placed her left paw on top of my head. Her mouth was open and 
her very red tongue was hanging out. I realized that she, and the other bears, 
must be thirsty, so I procured for them several barrels of water. They drank it 
thirstily and looked up at me from time to time to gratefully but even then 
they wrote no poems. They never did write a word. Still I don't think this 
teaching was a waste of time, and I'm planning on continuing it if I have the 
necessary strength. For hard and exhausting it is to attempt something one 
knows it is impossible to do- but what if one day those bears actually started 
to write? I think would all put down our Stefan George and our Yeats and pay 
attention! What wonders might be disclosed! What dreams of bears! 
"Reading is done in the immediate past, writing in the immediate future. 

"The world never tires of bad poetry, and for this reason we have come to this 
garden, which is in another world."


Mike Geary

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