The Artist Must Incline His Head Just So
by Matthew Zapruder
Often I have an idea and say it immediately.
If people praise me I wear the world
shyly on top of my head.
At times I'm compelled
like a fever to float
without any distinctions,
a sea of tin cans, love letters and greed.
The world is good for my pleasure and consumption.
I admire it totally, it stands
like a mountain inside and outside me.
Some art may be good, some dishonest.
There's no pressing need for conscription or liberty,
though a carful of people rides down the highway
too fast, clouded in song.
My lack of compassion astounds me,
and must not come to know itself.
It's true, I've never done anything
quite like striking you across the face.
There is of course the question of fate,
and whether it can be angered.
Example: when not overpowered by grief
there are proper and improper ways to mourn.
In such cases my gestures are shadows
cast far from myself
by one who crawls through the library,
touching the books that she touched.
I have dream after dream and forget each one.
I tell my students that we’re all in it together. We all have to do the same stuff, which is to keep struggling and trying out things. Eventually, something catches and we have to be honest with ourselves, forgiving of ourselves, but also work really hard.
Remember that poets are part of a holy tribe. Our egotistical and individual need to be praised is not more important than the greater good of writing poems, and being part of this ancient tradition of being the self-designated lucid dreamers of society. Nobody gives a [cuss] who wins what prize, everybody forgets who won about five minutes later, nobody gets any money from being a poet, nobody gets any real praise, and you turn to dust just like everybody else, but along the way you get to be a poet. You get to be a member of this tribe. That’s what you get.
If you’re ready for that, you want that, and that’s your fate, then you are welcome to be part of it. Nobody can tell anybody they can’t be part of it. The dead will take care of you. You future readers will love you long after you’re gone, but you don’t get anything for being a poet now. None of that matters when you’re sitting at your desk writing a poem. You have to find a way to live like a decent person.