Email to Lisa Vihos, November 19, 2015
A poem is an experience more than a container. Whether or not change occurs when one reads a poem, enters and undergoes the experience, depends more on the quality of attention on the reader’s part, their stance, their openness to being changed. The work of poetry happens one on one, writer to reader. Whether the poem is being read in front of a crowd or in the privacy of one’s reading nook, the essential exchange is still between individuals.
I am not sure poetry’s role is to have a measurable outcome. I think the work of poetry is 1) interior and 2) not linear, nor (often) immediate. I do this work because it is self-evident to me that the gifts of poetry are necessary to our time, as to every time. And still, even as a volunteer and advocate, doing all this work, I resist that word “central.” Poetry is marginal. It exists on the edge, and pulls us out of our ordinary. Pulls us out of our own middles and muddles. This is my conception of it, anyway.
Poets, with our nuanced language, our care-full attention, the way we listen… perhaps we can help to bridge the rifts that seem to open so easily, to help us all remember how to communicate across difference. To complicate any reductive binary model. More often than not, this is a question of learning to listen to difference, to listen deeply. And that deep listening is the work of poetry. Yes, yes it is.
Sarah Busse (Sarah Sadie) co-edited the anthologies Echolocations, Poets Map Madison and Local Ground(s)—Midwest Poetics, co- founded Cowfeather Projects and was Madison Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2015.
“Wisconsin Poetry Activists” is a flash interview series by Lisa Vihos, which grew out of research that she conducted for an article in Wisconsin People & Ideas, Turning on the Lights, Spring 2016.