Less than Perfect

Several years ago, a journal published half a poem I’d submitted. I was of “half” a mind to withdraw my submission. Then, I took a step back and thought about why the publication accepting only part of a poem. I suspect the editor felt he was dealing with two poems. I’d entitled the poem Perfect Union. However, I’d broken convention by placing part of the title at the beginning and part, the Union part, in the middle. I’d assumed that the phrase “Perfect Union” was familiar. After all, the phrase is from the Preamble to the United States Constitution that begins with the words “We the People.”

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Here’s a bit of the “Union” part of that poem (the unpublished section):

We’re fragmented

We can’t have Kate Smith singing

God bless America

There really is no core

only a weak end joining

cultural routine

the everydayness

Welcome to the tonight show

Welcome to the daily show

You can feel it you can feel it

you can see …

it’s terribly terribly sad

And here’s a bit of the “Perfect” part.

I slid onto a church pew

next to a doctor

who was white

his two kids and his wife

and looking up happened to see

the back of Bernice’s head

the glue in Bernice’s hair

and wondered if he found

this empire

as troublesome

as I did

So many live

side by side

but never touch

Once there was a time when I equated poetry with the avant-garde. That was an incorrect assumption. Poetry has a history. Because we live in a world ruled by finance, I’ve seen how history, tradition, or convention becomes monetized. Have you noticed, for example, how almost every book in a genre has the same physical dimension or has a similar-looking cover or similar sounding titles?

We have repeatedly emphasized the antagonism between art and business. Artists are torn between serving masters; we must figure a way to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” God, in this phrase attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, becomes our Christ, our Allah, our purpose.

As creators, our first and ultimate loyalty is to make it new, but we’re faced with editors, agents, and publishers who often frown on independence, rebelliousness, and newness. It’s fashionable for them to say that they’re looking for something new. But they’re really not. I’ve been doing this long enough to know the truth. They press innovation into subjection.

How do you negotiate these divisions without contempt (If you care more about art and less about making money)?

This might be hard to hear for some, but you have to treat writing as a religion.  The consanguinity of poetry and faith will keep you going—even when there doesn’t seem to be a reason for it. It is its own reason.

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