I teach punctuation as a form of orchestration and musical notation. I teach close reading, rhetoric, transitions. But the opposite of all this, equally important, cannot be taught; it can only be remembered and acknowledged. After a poem is written, something of what has happened outside the writer’s consciousness can sometimes be named. But during the writing, the poet cannot know everything about the poem. In lyric poems, I suspect the poet often enough may not know much of anything. Not what it is about, not where it is going. The poem needs its first draft intoxication, its subversive trickster energies, its whistling in the dark, its unexpected and unfendable off pang of longing. A poem too sure of itself will have no crack for breathable air to enter, and will die for lack of permeability. Poems that are alive will have a life of their own, beyond the control of the writer. The writer’s only task when that life arrives is to get out of its way.
We are the amanuenses of our poems. They dictate us. Or so it seems to me. We learn everything we can of craft so that what we know can be of service to what wants to come through us.
- Jane Hirshfield, in discussion with Ami Kaye about the themes of her essays (later collected in her excellent book Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise: Three Generative Energies of Poetry), over at Pirene's Fountain. You can read the whole interview here.