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Poem Not About the Poet’s Children

+++++No one likes poems about the poet’s children unless
the kids are absolute wretches because
+++++poems that praise the poet’s offspring are usually
thinly-veiled hymns of praise to the excellence

+++++of the person who raised them, and actually I can’t
think of any poems that talk about how horrible
+++++the poet’s progeny are, though that would certainly
be refreshing, wouldn’t it? The thing I want to say

+++++about my own kids is that they taught me how to write:
when I was a young father, we didn’t have a lot
+++++of money or a lot of space, so I learned that if
I couldn’t write when my boys were playing

+++++around my feet, I couldn’t write at all, and now
I feel as though I could write on an assault beach
+++++as the bullets whiz past my ears. Art happens
awfully fast when you’re reading or listening

+++++to music or watching a play: “Sometimes—
there’s God—so quickly,” says Blanche DuBois.
+++++But making art is another matter altogether. Ever see
Sargent’s portrait of Mrs. Edward Darley

+++++Boit? It looks so spontaneous, though it took thirty
sittings to complete. “Great things are done
+++++by a series of small things brought together,”
said Van Gogh. And George Saunders says

+++++you have to build empathy slowly in a work of fiction:
first you write, “Frank is an asshole.” Okay,
+++++but how do you know he’s an asshole? You write,
“Frank is an asshole because he barked at the barista.”

+++++Right. But why did he bark at the barista?
And you write, “Frank is an asshole because
+++++he barked at the barista who reminded him of
his dead wife, Maria.” Andrea, abbia pazienza.

+++++That’s what Michelangelo wrote to his student
Andrea Quartaresi on a sheet of paper with three
+++++drawings of eyes by the master at the top and,
below them, his pupil’s amateurish attempts

+++++at copying them by the pupil. Andrea, have patience.
Sit by yourself. Look out the window.
+++++Don’t even look out the window if you don’t want to.
“Why is it that knowing how to remain

+++++alone in Paris for a year in a miserable room teaches
a man more than a hundred literary salons
+++++and forty years’ experience of Parisian life?” says Camus.
It’s because you’re never lonely

+++++in your miserable Paris room. Your masters will
find you there; they’ll circle around you
+++++like children at play. Come, you great writers.
Come, Mary Shelley. Come, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky,

+++++James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf. What good
company! And you, William Blake, who said,
+++++“Without minute neatness of execution,
the sublime cannot exist.” Let the poem

+++++be the sum of everything, including the poet
and his children but also all parents and all children
+++++as well as those who are childless or had parents
or children and lost them. Let the poem be

+++++a four-year-old boy or a six-year-old girl,
applying him- or herself, pressing carefully,
+++++rounding things out, sticking out his or her tongue
as she or he concentrates. Feed the poem

+++++and read to it at night. Teach the poem to drive fast
but also to be gentle and listen to other poems.
+++++Let the poem be what it wants to be.
Should the poem go away to college, let it choose

+++++whatever major it likes—don’t make the poem
study Accounting if it doesn’t want to! Let it
+++++be playful, if it can be, and if not, not. Let the poem
write all poems that are as yet unwritten.

David Kirby‘s latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please. He teaches English at Florida State University.