Last evening at Cannon Mine Coffee in Lafayette, we talked about the tribal aspects of poetry. Maybe we speak a dialect that only insiders can fully understand? Given the small audience that most poets attract, we might as well speak Latin or some other unknown and esoteric tongue. And then there are those who would make known their feelings and experiences with only a vague, general vocabulary on their lips. They say they write to express themselves. Well and good, I guess, but screaming is also expressive, as is moaning, sobbing, cursing and a certain one-finger salute. None of which is poetry. A diary entry, a sermon, screed, or rant is not automatically poetry.
Poetry is a craft, which one practices and respects. It’s art, not therapy, not a greeting card or shopping list. Tribal lore for poets includes other poems besides ones own. From those who have written before, we learn the manners of our people. And we learn hospitality, welcoming strangers, gently nudging them to accept the ethos of the tribe. Otherwise, we post guards at the doors of perception and end up writing only for those who know the secret passwords.