You should stay away from poets. Far away. Poetry is a contagious, untreatable virus which is transmitted through the eyes and ears, directly to the heart. Even stuffing your ears with cotton and poking out both eyes won’t kill poetry, once contracted. There is no cure.
English: Alice Walker, Miami Book Fair Interna…
One can, however, confer immunity to poetry. This works best with children. Poetry classes taught from volumes thick with chapters on syllable counting and meter, punctuation and rhyme can make the most poetically vulnerable, resistant. This works best administered after lunch while seated on hard wooden chairs in an over-heated room. Distractions from the natural world must be blocked by concrete walls, fluorescent hums and window shades.
There should be signs on the doors of the houses of poets. “Poet here”. “Keep away”. “Danger”. Poets should be forced to wear warning tags stitched to the fronts of their jackets so people will know to keep their children at a safe distance.
Poets are notorious for feeling and then writing the truth. This is another reason they should be ostracized and bound. They have no limits to what they’ll drag out into the light. They may fool you by beginning with bird songs or snowmen or a kelp-scented breeze. But beware. Poets sprout razors. They cut deep in the belly and tear open hearts.
Contracting poetry poisons one away from useful endeavors, like writing cell phone apps so children can practice killing at bus stops. Those who tear feathers by the handful from the bodies of half-live chickens at the processing plant are more valued than poets. They’re paid. They have jobs.
If you become infected with poetry and are find yourself inking couplets on the corners of napkins over breakfast, don’t quit your graveyard shift job unpacking truckloads of cheap Chinese junk. Keep flipping burgers. When one says “starving artist”, the poet does not even make it up onto this lowest of rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. At least a “starving artist” has that quirky patina people revere from a distance. Jazz musicians and landscape painters rate the secret awe normally reserved for yogis that meditate bare-bottomed in the snow. Poets don’t.
If you’re asked what you do and you reply “write poetry”, the questioner will go silent, blue then ask again. “No really. I meant, what do you do?”
It makes no sense for me to feel so good to be infected by poetry. The making of poems earns no money. Even family members sigh from having to live around me. They want dinner and attention, not clever words or insights into the horrors of our modern culture. My poor children. My sainted husband. My lost friends.
When you hang out with poets, you rub the folding corners of your arms with those who are too busy listening and watching, feeling and writing to notice the jab of your elbows.
by Alice Keys MD