I give myself a poet's right, otherwise I would not dare to speak. Hélène Cixous
Poetry showed up in the middle of my perfectly ordinary life, and upended my non-fiction writing. It upended a lot of things. Poetry quickly seeped into the recesses of my thoughts, eating at me, asking me troublesome questions. Anna Akhmatova appeared in exile, and then Jane Kenyon in her depression. Rita Dove showed up with a bold sexuality, and Mark Doty with his truthfulness. Rilke eventually moved in with his dark moodiness, his desire for deity and human love creating a tension I could identify with. Poets kept showing up and tearing away layers of the ordinary, showing me that a life in words, in poetry, can be extraordinary.
I would choose to be inspired by the surly waves on the Oregon coast, the dry, breathless climb up a Colorado 14er, or a languid summer California afternoon. But I'm living in an urban setting where the roar of drag racing fills the night air every Sunday, and nature is found primarily in my compact garden. This year I planted tomatoes, three of them heirlooms with romantic names. I nurture these plants obsessively, weed and water and fight for a lushness that is impossible in this climate. The yard is a compromise and my stubbornness the only thing between gardening failure and ripe autumn tomatoes. I am butting up against an environment that does not embrace as much as push me away.
How to be a poet in this climate? This has been my challenge, to create poems that can only be written at this moment in this city, poems not of lushness but of spartan skies and Hatch chilies, weed shops on every corner, and urban neighborhoods running into sprawling suburbs. These past five years in Denver have taught me that no matter where we live, no matter where we call home, the land speaks to us, the people move through us, and the poems eventually write themselves. Possibly not the poems we meant to write, but the ones that must be written.