What is Reserved for the Poet?

Recently, at a gathering we call ModPo South, some of my smartest friends gathered to discuss poetry, among other things. We had previously selected Frank O’Hara to be the poet to discuss and it had gone rather well, so the question was raised as to who we should pick for our next meeting. As I had just handed out a copy of my most recent self-published chapbook, Sometimes California, or the March Set, someone suggested, in half jest (or maybe three quarters), that we study and discuss my poetry.

I responded sincerely that I was flattered but I didn’t think my poetry was the kind that lends itself to a close read. We quickly moved on to Naomi Replansky, as we had touched on her because of Arif’s participation of a close read for ModPo Plus of her most recent and “last” poem. I was most happy to yield to Naomi, but I was left with two questions, for which I have no idea the answer, and hope someone reading this will offer one, or two.

  • To anyone who has read any of my poetry. I don’t think my poetry is deep enough to dive into. (If you haven’t read any of my stuff, there is plenty on the internet, and some of it is collected at https://anthonyuplandpoetwatkins.wordpress.com/) Can a poem be too shallow to close read? How do you know if it is?


  • Should a poet, who has already had first crack at writing the poem and therefore owns all the words in the poem, be allowed to contribute to a close read? Should their inspiration, their intention be given any weight, or is the point of a close read to expand the poem into the readers’ minds? I have noticed plenty of times when I hear someone discussing one of my poems they find meanings and depth that I either never intended or intended on such a subconscious level I THOUGHT I never intended that meaning or reference!


I have always approached poetry, first from a writer’s perspective, my own, and then secondarily, and far down the road, thought of it from a reader’s perspective. Unlike some poets, I do write 100% of my poetry for public consumption. If it isn’t read, in my mind, it isn’t written, yet, at least not on a conscious level, I don’t write it FOR the reader. I write it as I feel a must capture a “thing” even if that thing is just the feeling of 7:30 air on your skin on a warm-going-to- hot spring day and the sun is setting and some of the heat is leaving the earth. I write to hold that experience as a thing in my mind. Then as soon as I write it, just as I will with this non-poetic piece, I will rush to publish it and promote a dozen places. Never seeing that that air means more than what it thought it meant to me. Again, I really would appreciate some answers, because I don’t have an inkling.


On Manchester May 22 2017

Like so many other westerners, I awake to the news that what we feared seems to be a reality. Another violent attack leaving innocents dead, including children. We are horrified. Though the real horror is for the families and loved ones of the dead and wounded.

I always have two thoughts when these attacks happen. The first time I had these thoughts were when a crazy Christian white supremacist blew up a federal building in Oklahoma in hopes of starting a race war, and then again when Muslim anti westerners knocked down two buildings in NYC in hopes of starting a religious war.

One: to the terrorist: What is your purpose? I am sure on some level you think the society of which your victims are a part of need to suffer like the communities they victimize. Do you really think your side, be it your fellow white supremacists, or fellow radicalized Muslims, were going to start and win a culture/religious war and conquer the progressive west? Really? Do you not realize you only cause more death and destruction, not at the federal building, or at the WTC, but in your backyard where the crackdown against your kind escalates? You are starting a war or firing another shot in a war that takes ten of yours, maybe, for the Muslim, 1000 of yours for each one you kill. I understand the frustration, even if I disagree with both your method and your motive, but the 22 dead in Manchester, the nine dead in the Charleston church, does not help your cause in anyway. Do you not see that? Are you basically stupid? Or do you hate “your kind that much” or is there something I am missing?


Two: to the rest of us: Do we not understand we are the real terrorists? We, as society, both allow poisonous philosophies like “Christian” White Supremacy and “Islamic” Anti-Westernism to flourish, in the first case, by not bringing EVERYONE into the success and wealth of our country, by leaving this core of entitled, but excluded whites, who are easy picking for those who would exploit pain and suffering for profit, and in the case of the radicalized Muslims, because we have, in both Europe and the USA taken the attitude that we expect them to live by our rules, we resent them for the actions of a tiny few, who, by the way, have very legitimate complaints either about their own oppressive leaders whom we have long been too happy with in the name of stability, and in the name of fighting terrorism, or against Israel and its murderous policies to its own people, or to us western powers who murder Arabs like knocking down dominoes, if we kill a hundred innocents and get one bad guy, we think that’s ok, and if we kill 1000 innocents and miss the bad guy, we mostly bemoan missing our target, not the “collateral” lives lost. As foolish as it is for the attackers to think they will win in anyway, given that somehow, the west calls them cowards, even when they die for their cause, it is more foolish to think by committing genocide against Arabs we will end the scrouge of the occasional and random acts of terror in the west.


When we look at areas where peace more or less reigns after long periods of oppression and terror, we find peace came not through terror nor through total annihilation of the oppressed peoples, but when sadness and loss on both sides that both parties were ready to do what they should have done to start with, bring everyone to the table. Why do we, the rich and powerful, fail to see that the same thing that has gone on for thousands of years will continue. If we live our rich powerful protected life while we exploit and kill others, including the daily deaths of innocents in various places around the world that we either cause or in some way contribute to, we will have to pay, in the pitiful feeble (but not cowardly) way that the oppressed have to fight Empire, terror and sabotage. When we commit or allow the horrors of so much of the world to exist, so that we can have cheap food and fuel and consumer goods, when we do not demand for every man woman and child around the globe, the same justice and opportunity we expect for ourselves, how do we expect to end terror?

So yes, I cry for Manchester, like i cry for Aleppo, and Gaza, and the US Mexico border… and gay men in Russia and Black children in America….

Manchester Heart