For whom?

For whom do I write? It is a question for any stenographer or hack, who takes up a pen, metaphorically. Usually, he will have a ready answer. Among the best I have heard is, “I write because they pay me.” It can be a job, like basket-weaving. Do it every day and you may get good at it. All you need is a supply of straw.

There are poets, and journalists. They write for different markets. I count the novelists with the journalists, as I have previously confessed. This is not to say there are no good ones, or that in moments they do not rise to the condition that only poetry can reach: that of fine art. Yet poets are also journalists at their very heights and depths, reporting, as Zbigniew Herbert said, from “the beseiged city.” Or Dante, celebrated journalist of the underground, from whom we were able to learn that Hell is full of bishops. (Few readers follow the rest of his journey — the upward portion.)

Art may happen anywhere, like murder. It is shocking, though the crowd turns away. They’ve seen murders before, they want something better. And while it is true that art, “creation,” is the opposite of murder, they think they’ve seen that, too.

Do not speak to us of the greatness of poetry,
Of the torches wisping in the underground,

Of the structure of vaults upon a point of light. …

Day is desire and night is sleep. …

So wrote Wallace Stevens, who told us in prose that, time and again, we are told that poets must not write for an elite. But no, he says, they must do so. The poet must write for a gallery of his own, “if there are enough of his own to fill a gallery.”

This has nought to do with poetry, in itself, but with the manner of address. There are those who write for “the people,” and they are plentifully available to the people, on the Web. And there are those who write, like teenage girls keeping diaries, only for their friends. Please, God: keep me in the latter category.