Walking through various airports last week, I found myself looking at people and thinking about how every single one of them has a story, or many. Every one of the hundreds of people I saw in those airports, and every one of the thousands of people I flew over in one jet-fueled tin can or another, has a story that is to them the most important story ever, the story his or her life depends on. Every one of those people has this whole other world inside that I will never see.
I've had sorrows and I've had joys. Mine are no greater than anyone's -- I'm tempted to say "and no less" but there is always someone out there who's got it better and someone out there who's got it far, far worse. The point being, none of it's unique. There's really nothing about any of my stories that's any more important or any more interesting than anyone's. Nothing. We all love and we all suffer, and the particulars of each are of interest only to ourselves, really. (If we're lucky, ourselves and a few close companions.)
I see friends going through what they go through and while I feel for them, for their griefs and their celebrations, part of me can't help but stand apart and think: yeah, that's what life is, and we just keep going on, so what of it? Is that horrible of me? That's probably horrible of me. But there you have it. There are all those million million stories out there, and what difference if I tell mine, or yours, or his, or anyone's?
When I write, lately, I get bogged down in one of two things. I get bogged down in the overly particular, the overly personal, the endless I, I, I. And then I think, dude, who the f*ck are you that anyone should care. Or: I get bogged down in the grand sweep of philosophizing, the stupid royal "we." And again I think, dude, why should anybody care, plus you sound like a blithering egomaniac with your grand pronouncements.
Tell me something. Point me to a poem that will show me why these stories matter. Give me something that walks the zone between the too-personal -- the small and claustrophobic -- and the grand but remote sweep of epic. Point me to a poem that will remind me why we do this. Because right now, just at this very moment here in my living room with a cat napping against my knee and newspapers piling up unread and the TV on mute and cars going by on Walnut Street headed south towards who knows where, I seem to have misplaced the reasons for poetry.
I'm sure I'll remember on my own eventually. I usually do. But just in case: point me to a poem that reminds you why. Maybe that will help.