One Less Scoundrel in the World

Ted Kooser, from The Poetry Home Repair Manual:

Poetry is a lot more important than poets. 

A noted contemporary poet and critic has said we ought to keep poetry a secret from the masses. Another, the editor of a prestigious anthology of poetry, said that each nation ought to have no more than a handful of poets. Both sound pretty elitist, don't they? Well, we'll always have among us those who think the best should be reserved for the few.

Considering the ways in which so many of us waste our time, what would be wrong with a world in which everybody were writing poems? After all, there's a significant service to humanity in spending time doing no harm. While you're writing your poem, there's one less scoundrel in the world. And I'd like a world, wouldn't you, in which people actually took time to think about what they were saying? It would be, I'm certain, a more peaceful, more reasonable place. I don't think there could ever be too many poets. By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say "We loved the earth but could not stay."

What makes the work of a poet most difficult is not that the world doesn't always appreciate what he or she does. We all know how wrong the world can be. It was wrong about Vincent van Gogh when it refused to purchase his sunflower painting for the roughly $125 he was asking, and it is every bit as wrong to pay $35 million or $40 million for it today. 

What is most difficult for a poet is to find the time to read and write when there are so many distractions, like making a living and caring for others. But the time set aside for being a poet, even if only for a few moments each day, can be wonderfully happy, full of joyous, solitary discovery. 

Kooser, T. (2005). The poetry home repair manual: Practical advice for beginning poets. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. (library)