"The art of forgetting, let’s call it, is a way of finding freedom, of locating yourself in balance between desire and fear.”—David Biespiel
I’m writing this from the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines, NC. It’s been a long time since I’ve written a new poem—more than a year. This is partly because it takes me a long time to find the zone. I need to be alone and in a quiet place. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that so much of my poet’s life was lived alone, freeing me, then, to explore the inside my head whenever I wanted to. The circumstances of my life have changed, and that’s not a bad thing except maybe for finding opportunities to be alone for a week or two and write.
Yes, I know, this is such a statement of privilege.
In any case, be that as it may, what I do each time I sit down to write poems is try to remember things. As David Biespiel suggests in the interview featured in this issue, we forget as a way to maintain equilibrium, to avoid that which would otherwise keep us obsessing over what brought us to the place we occupy. But to write a poem, that’s the risk we take. We have to go there or why bother.
In Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, Amanda tells her son, Tom, a romantic dreamer of sorts, “You are the only young man I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes present, the present past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don’t plan for it!" Poetry helps me understand—helps me place in context—the past, and it helps me make better decisions today, after that excavation project, so that I am less likely to face regret in the future. This is what I believe anyway. So far so good.
I think that’s the problem I have getting in the mood to write poems. I hesitate to go back, fearing, I suppose, languishing there, digging too long or intensely. I’m not a confessional writer because there’s not much in my past that’s too awful for which to ask forgiveness; still, to remember our infractions—real, imagined, or ambiguous—is to judge ourselves anew and to risk epiphanies we may not want to undergo. Risk poems we may not want to write.
Sometimes we must give up the illusion of freedom to find actual freedom. We have to remember. My memory isn’t what it used to be, so wish me luck. Call poetry the art of remembering.