Dante’s Divine Comedy took him thirteen years to write. I’m not a Dante scholar so I don’t know, but I think he probably revised, crossed things out, rewrote and re-composed over the course of those 13 years and the poem still sings, still makes me blush, and cracks my heart with fear. Dante’s work is, in part, my answer to Charles Bukowski’s so you want to be a writer as it was my answer to two young Latvian poets that I met while living in the hills outside of Florence who asked me: You’re a poet, tell us, it all has to come out in a burst of passion that burns onto the page, yes? Well looking at Dante, and Shakespeare, and William Carlos Williams…no, in part.
The other part of the answer is yes: this is how poetry is: blood and fire, especially when you’re a young poet. Some poets write like this for a lifetime. I am not such a poet, nor am I bound to become a titan of World Literature. I’m about 13 years younger than Dante was when he died, incidentally – just as he finished up Paradiso. I may yet have a Divine Comedy somewhere in me but I doubt it.
I can say that in my life, words have become dense and encrusted with associations over the years. Sometimes I need a poetic structure to bear their weight, to keep them from collapsing in on themselves so that the song of each word can be heard. Other times they do fly out suddenly, as light as startled birds and I have to stop in a parking lot or in the middle of cooking dinner and pen them down, sometimes I don’t and I lose them. Sometimes I write down a bustling crowd of dense images and a year later begin the process of picking the poems out, finding that what I thought was one poem turns out to be three. It is work; but what joyous, intense, full work.
So I write, other poets write, each with their own motives and methods. You read and the poem sings to you, or it doesn’t. We’re all trying: poets to give you, the reader, the gift of an image that cannot be offered in any better way, that cracks you a bit and frees something; you readers are giving us the gift of your searching, your curiosity, your attention. This month we have a proliferation of gifts to offer, I hope that you will find something in the next 28 days that sings to you.
Buona lettura e grazie,
Bonnie M. McClellan