A Defense of Poetry

by Rodney Jones

If abstract identity, philosophy’s silhouette, authorless, quoted,
and italicized, governs by committee the moments
of a mutinying, multitudinous self, then I’m lost.

But let a semi loaded with bridge girders come barreling
down on me, I’m in a nanosecond propelled
into the singular, fleet and unequivocal as a deer’s thought.

As to the relevance of poetry in our time, I delay and listen
to the distances: John Fahey’s “West Coast Blues,” a truck
backing up, hammers, crows in their perennial discussion of moles.

My rage began at forty. The unstirred person, the third-person
void, the you of accusations and reprisals, visited me.
Many nights we sang together; you don’t even exist.

In print, a little later is the closest we come to now: the turn
in the line ahead and behind; the voice, slower than the brain;
and the brain, slower than the black chanterelle.

The first time I left the South I thought I sighted
in an Indiana truckstop both Anne Sexton
and John Frederick Nims, but poetry makes a little dent like a dart.

It’s the solo most hold inside the breath as indigestible truth.
For backup singers, there’s the mumbling of the absolutes.
Du-bop of rain and kinking heat. La-la of oblivion.

Sheep-bleat and stone-shift and pack-choir.
There is a sense beyond words that runs through them:
animal evidence like fur in a fence, especially valuable now,

self-visited as we are, self-celebrated, self-ameliorated,
and self-sustained, with the very kit of our inner weathers,
with migraine, our pain du jour, our bread of suffering.

If poetry is no good to you, why pretend it can enlighten you?
Why trouble the things you have heard or seen written
when you can look at the mandrone tree?

Rodney Jones from Salvation Blues (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), reprinted by permission from author.