One of the obstacles to suspending one’s studies
In order to finally appreciate good poetry as a mature person
Is the general feeling that poety is a useless item.
No matter how many times we read a critic extolling
The “virtues” and “uses” of poetry, no matter how eloquently
And how often such a defense is put (whether self-interested or not)
Let the argument be psychological, scientific, spiritual, political,
Even economic, the feeling (a universal one) remains:
Poetry is not a useful art, it is not a practice
Which furthers the world in a material sense, nor does the practice
Of it alone deserve any direct material award.
This humbling fact prevents the student from ceasing to be a student.
The inner voice which keeps insisting that poetry is trivial
Prevents the reader from securing his unspoken right–
And it is a right, ironically enough, in the highest political sense–
To enjoy poems, instead of learning from them.
For learning (aside from learning the mechanics of the art itself,
Which should be poetry’s chief study, if we are honest)
Is continued, with the unconscious hope that all this education
Will some day make it matter more, since poetry itself,
Says the student to himself, is of so little use in itself.
This is not to imply that poetry is without content, without history,
Without a potentially endless learnable context;
The point is, that these do not define poetry, per se.
The poem qua poem does not find them necessary.
Another obstacle is the belief (now a cliche) that we’re always learning.
It is one of those sentiments expressed, as a matter of procedure,
Everywhere we look: just one example is the talented person
Who humbly protests during an interview or an award ceremony:
“I still have so much to learn. I’ll be learning until the day I die.”
This is true, but at some point the show must go on.
The rehearsals end and the performance begins. The performance
Is an entity to be judged or enjoyed; it has a necessarily
Finished or completed existence. The painter cannot add
More paint, the director cannot shout out to his actors
In the middle of the performance, the poet cannot
Amend a line while the published version is scanned by a reader.
But as the distinction becomes more and more blurred
Between the study of poetry and the enjoyment of poetry,
The result is precisely what we would expect in poetry now:
Poems with an unfinished quality, as if the poet did not want
The process to end, was reluctant to let his poem go,
As if the poet could, in fact, have continued writing the poem
Forever, so that the length of the poem (the ultimate form of any
Poem being its length) is determined by “rehearsal time,” not by
The “poem’s time.” Anything can happen in rehearsal.
That’s the point of rehearsal. Learning is always artificially timed.
A professor must always determine how much time there is to
Cover the subject. “Sorry,” the professor says,
“We don’t have time to talk about that.”