Monday, July 11, 2011

One of the books I have been pecking at lately is Jay Parini's biography of Robert Frost. Although I feel as if I'm reading it at earthworm speed, I somehow have managed to reach page 135. I daresay I've missed most of the details, but I didn't miss this one--a sentence from a letter to a new friend:

"Perhaps it will help you understand my state of mind if I tell you that I have lived for the most part in villages where it were better that a millstone were hanged about your neck than that you should own yourself a minor poet."

After reading that sentence, I knew I had already thought those words myself. The sentence feels like reverse plagiarism, as if Frost had to steal it from my 2011 head in order to say it in a 1913 letter.

I suppose you could see my remark as arrogant, but to me it seems to indicate a more insidious link. I've never read this biography before, nor have I read any collection of Frost's letters. So why is the man speaking what I already know by heart?


Ruth said...

Perhaps it is because you are not as minor a poet as you think and neither was Frost????

Carol Willette Bachofner said...

I think it may be that we poets (minor or not) tend to be self-effacing. It is also the fear dragon blasting his spume of fire at our egos, the fact that we read the works of others and find ourselves lacking, and the general false idea that people do not read or need poetry. I like to tell the story of the time I was asked "and what do YOU do?" at a gathering. I answered, I'm a writer." The person moved in very close and asked what I write. When I said, "poetry," she took steps back. No kidding, she really did. I felt upset and angry and diminished.

How do I answer that now? The same. I do NOT let others diminish me though. I just say something about how essential a human art poetry is. Maybe they rue the question after my mini-lecture on the pleasures and benefits of poetry. Not worried about that one bit. LOL I feel good no matter.

Carlene Gadapee said...

I have decided that the answer to the 'what do you do' question is up to me (us?) to define:

I do something permanent
I am a wordsmith
I create a cultural record

In this age of digital impermanence, it frightens me (quite literally and physically) that we leave nothing for future archaeologists to find. Oh, we leave hulking bits of plastic, carbon, steel, and the like...but we leave no words of permanence on findable bits. Like paper. Or parchment. Or stone.

Or minds.