Uneager reader and undaunted poet talk

After Balthus, oil pastel drawing by William Eaton (doctored), 2018“I’m sorry, but I don’t get it.”

“What don’t you get?”

“Well, this line.”

“This one right here?”

“For instance.”

“What don’t you get about it?”

“What it means!”

“What do you think it means?”

“I have no idea.”

“Well, if you had an idea what would it be?”

“That I’m not smart enough to read poetry, or not your poetry in any case.”

“And so we might say that that is why I wrote this poem: to demonstrate that I’m smarter than you?”

“That doesn’t seem like a very good reason for writing a poem.”

“So what’s another alternative?”

“You wanted me to figure out what you meant. But I can’t.”

“Did you try? I mean, did you ask yourself any questions of your own?”

“I’m not even sure how I would do that.”

“And, I’m curious, when it comes to life – to less poetic life – do you get it or do you have questions?”

“That’s an interesting question. I’d have to say no and no; I probably don’t get it – or sometimes I don’t – and I try not to think about things I don’t understand. Like the beginning of the universe or whether we really make choices or even littler things like whether all corporations steal or if none of us can help being dishonest. When I was a child questions like that used to frighten me. It’s like my mind would start spinning out of control.”

“So it’s best not to have poems that head in that direction!”

“I guess you could say that, but that doesn’t feel like a very good thing to say.”

“We might say that a poet would like his or her readers to pause and explore their questions. He would like people, more generally, to have ways of pausing and exploring questions, and this is precisely what people do not want to do.”

“It seems sad in a way. Sad for the poet at least!”

“Perhaps we’re going to have to say something like, The best poems are about our sadness.”

“That might explain why I’ve never really liked poetry.”

“Or why, every chance I get, I write light verse!”

“But wouldn’t that – I mean, if it’s poetry – wouldn’t that be about sadness too?”

“You make me feel like I have a future in teaching.”

— Dialogue and drawing (after a Balthus painting) by William Eaton


Now available from Amazon: Art, Sex, Politics

Art, Sex, Politics cover from AmazonIn a new, provocative collection of essays, William Eaton, the author of Surviving the Twenty-First Century, shares the pleasures of questions, tastes, reading and more visual arts. “That we are animals, that is as sure as ever. How savagely we behave! And how affectionately rub up against one another. How, desperately, make love?”
Five-star review: “ . . . remarkable collection of essays. . . . insights which carry the reader into a world of mindfulness. One of the pleasures of reading a book by Mr. Eaton is to witness the author peeling away the layers of his stories. His essay concerning “savoring,” for example, first touches on food habits, yet is in fact a call to live with intention; to savor life as one would savor a meal. . . . lovely prose . . . delightful book.”
Kind words about Surviving: “Entertaining, yet packs a quiet intellectual wallop. . . . so thought-provoking and poetic I didn’t want it to end . . . beautiful and wise and moving . . . engaged, non-doctrinaire, well-read, independent-minded. . . . William Eaton finds arresting themes in unusual places. . . . The writing is masterful and wonderfully absorbing.”

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