The Imperative of Poetry

Much of the anguish in our lives seems to stem from the thought “this shouldn’t be happening”. Or “that shouldn’t have happened”. Or “that better not happen”. These are our wails of resistance to what is.

What is is what is. And often what is dogs our concept of divine justice and causes us to feel perpetually wronged

As I have stepped one, two, three… ten paces back from my utopian ideals, I see a world that has never behaved in the way I think it should. And never bothered to ask my opinion.

I see lives being lived with such pains, small and large. I see histories riddled with wrongs that yes, may have forever disfigured the behavior of this one or that one or that whole community.

But then I see the reaching of this branch, this little life, towards the light – as the sapling that is nearly crushed by a great fallen tree learns to grow round it. So it lives with a crooked limb, or twisted trunk, but it keeps living.

In these times, when caught in the ravages of reality, the imperative of poetry presses forward. It wafts in like a ghost, and you ask, how did you get in here? The door is locked! But then you sigh and say, never mind, I’m glad you came. Will you sit down with me for a while?

Poetry crafts the unspeakable into words and phrases that can be voiced aloud. These words do not rewrite the world, they do not attempt to fix or change it, but they sit with it and hold its hand.

Then somehow, like the poverty-stricken couple that looks across the barren kitchen table at one another and suddenly smiles, poetry makes all that is not okay, okay. Just for a moment.

I believe in the imperative of poetry.

This is why I am so thrilled that my friend Christine Gardiner’s book of poetry entitled My Sister’s Father came out this month. (It will bring you to your knees.)

Christine has invited me to introduce her at the coming-out party for My Sister’s Father next week at an old longshoreman’s bar called Sunny’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn. If you too believe in the imperative of poetry, you should come.

Here is a poem from My Sister’s Father by Christine:


The backyard was a suburban diner wedged

between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

The sky was strung between the signposts. The pine trees

smelled like vinyl. The hallway was a hot expanse

of highway that led only to another nowhere, where

I paced a moral spectrum, but that straight and narrow

alleyway soon turned into discovery:

the business of our sector was well lit but empty

and brutal forces were manipulating its periphery.

My sister lit a cigarette. She turned to me

and whispered through her breath, “What is the color of regret?”

Already she was drowning off the shore of judgment’s distant island

and I was driving straight to a policed state of despair, where

hot pink and forever, the vulva wept red

leather seats in the back of a parked convertible sports car.

Time went in and out of focus.

We were ten. She was eleven. I was twelve.

Bleeding through my underclothes.

The mind swam in boyfriends, and flesh swung from the bones of the old.

The dawn was cold and the lawn was frosted over with forgetting.

I caught my sister talking to the mirror eerily.

We love each other don’t we?

Then shut up and kiss me like TV.


(Black Lawrence Press, 2017)


*For updates on my workshops and events and things, sign up for my newsletter HERE




Leave a Reply