What we want from art is whatever is missing from the lives we are already living and making.
But sometimes I swear I don’t have a poem in me. Does this mean nothing is missing? It could be the anemic memory I share with Grampa McCarthy has suffocated the lack I lamented a moment ago. It could be I’ve grown tired of inventing new metaphors to frame the same old life.
Poems ape reality. No matter how disparate, your mind will synthesize any two known things. Pig & fly. Love & fate. For some people, contemplating the possible suffices. Experience is a burden when it uncouples memory’s bond. For some people, lessons learned feel like a vigorish for survival.
Like when you drive across the state, clenching between your teeth the first prayer in a religion of apology, but learn the woman you love has imagined a new reality.
When we say we’ve learned, we mean we’ve cobbled our failures into a memory we can live with. I think all writers obsess over one failure, spend their lives writing it into the mundane.
When we search for what’s missing, we often end up with a poem. Which could mean poetry unglues our wounds to sustain itself. Or maybe that’s the first step in repairing the ragged suture of memory.
When we don’t yet have language for the experience—that’s where poetry starts. If you decide to search for what’s missing, make sure you bring a strong set of teeth, and whatever allows you to believe a poem makes a difference.