At first I thought I pilfer things I say out loud for poems later. Then I realized what I said was already a piece of poem when I said it.
Writing down lines I say is not the only or main way I write, but I’m focussing on this practice because it highlights my interest in the borders of poem and world, the relationship between the writer and writing.
So I fixate on the two meanings of “poetics”: one, “the branch of knowledge that deals with the techniques of poetry” and two, “the creative principles informing any literary, social or cultural construction, or the theoretical study of these” (OED). Let’s say that I could find creative principles informing the forms of my poems and the forms of myself—in both cases, caught up in conventions, habits, and assumptions belonging to my larger social and cultural contexts and their inheritances and influences. What would it mean to apply the same principles of form to my life and my art?
If I sometimes think and speak in poetry when I’m not writing poetry, what is the difference for me between poetry and not-poetry? I know what I mean when I say that poetry “does” life (it performs or makes active an idea or experience or feeling), but what do I mean if I say that life “does” poetry?
I like to think that I am a poem (as Julia Alvarez, for example, has done before me), except that I don’t want to muddy things with metaphor. The poem is me (as much as a cut-off fingernail is), but I’m not a poem—I’m a human. Nevertheless, you can tell I’m getting into trouble here if I need to point out my humanness. Am I a poem? I make myself and a poem within the contexts that also make me and it. Like a poem, I don’t have a direct practical purpose—me and poems, the information we convey and the things we make happen aren’t pre-established and unswerving like an office memo or a stop sign. Like a poem, I have rhythms, the habits of the lines I walk, the ways I walk them.
Am I a poem? I ask unanswered questions in my poetry too. Reader, if you have any better ideas, I’ll be checking the comments section for help. Am I a poem?
Dale Tracy is the author of the chapbook Celebration Machine (Proper Tales, 2018), the forthcoming chapbook The Mystery of Ornament (above/ground, 2020), and the monograph With the Witnesses: Poetry, Compassion, and Claimed Experience (McGill-Queen’s, 2017). She lives in Kingston, ON, where she teaches at the Royal Military College of Canada.