It has such a seventies, flowerchild feeling, “stay beautiful,” which I suppose is why I love saying it. Maybe it’s a corny thing to say, or maybe it’s radical. Al Young begins his poem, “For Poets” (which you can find in the Anthology I Am the Darker Brother) with the line:
but don’t stay down underground too long
Don’t turn into a mole
or a worm
or a root
or a stone
Come on out into the sunlight
Breathe in trees
Knock out mountains
Commune with snakes
& be the very hero of birds
Don’t forget to poke your head up
Walk all around
Don’t forget to fly
What I like about this poem is that for a poet or writer staying beautiful is connected to remaining underground. Stay beautiful, but don’t stay underground too long. And it really is the most beautiful thing in the world, when you hit that groove in your writing, when you feel like you’re burning on a low flame: you’ve become poetry. But you’re also very much underground, there’s a darkness. Your work is buried too, it needs to see the sunlight, and it’s the work that needs to fly.
Admittedly, this has not been my strong suit, not at all. But I’ve come to believe that half the reason we need to air our work out, let it fly, is because it’s a way of finding our pack. “He who cannot howl will not find his pack.” says Charles Simic. Oh, but let's change that to read: "She who cannot howl will not find her pack." What is all this writing for if not to entertain our friends? If not to draw those we love nearer to us?
In a prose poem from The World Doesn’t End, Simic writes: “The time of minor poets is coming. Good-by Whitman, Dickinson, Frost. Welcome you whose fame will never reach beyond your closest family, and perhaps one or two good friends gathered after dinner over a jug of fierce red wine…"
Poems enjoyed and shared over a jug of fierce red wine – this is what we yearn for anyway, isn’t it? The immediacy and the sense that your words may be devoured, sipped upon, found necessary. Stay beautiful, she says, with a howl.