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How to be a poet - Wendell Berry

I think there are two kinds of poems that poets write for themselves that I particularly find fascinating. One of them is the “I want” poem; a smorgasbord of desire and dream. The other is a kind of a manual, either an “I should” or a “this is what I do”. This is written with regard to the writing process or a cautioning of sorts, a note one would put up on the fridge to remind oneself of “the way”. The fear, sometimes, with poems that take on an air of wisdom or knowing, and address the reader with certainty is the fear of becoming prescriptive. I find anything prescriptive problematic - it is not in the suggestion, but in the tone. The prescriptive nod slowly turns into the fascist grimace.


Wendell Berry’s “How to be a poet” has none of these hang-ups. Consistent with his oeuvre this poem is marked by a gathering slowness, an assuredness that is at peace with the mystery of the living world. Previously I’ve shared his The Peace of Wild Things, another poem that shares this quality. It locates the persona as an outsider within the realm of nature, but one who is aware of being in the presence of a miraculous thing, and turns from observer to participant. The poem I share today, I hold close to my heart, not only with reference to my craft, but, as a missive to my present and future self; a manual for life, even.


Note: I’m taking Wendell Berry’s advice and going to be staying away from screens and shunning electrical wire. I will be in the forests of Chhattisgarh, in search of honey and honey hunters for a few days, in areas where there is no network. I hope to come back invigorated and refuelled, with poems shaped liked white Sagwan flowers, and Mahua buds, and words smelling of wet earth to share with you!



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