Food, Loss and Failing Bodies by Tobi Alfier
The place of the poet in contemporary society is to act as a flame-thrower who can say ordinary things in an extraordinary way. Burn someone with a vision of something they couldn't already see. Make a difference in one person's life or challenge someone to think of something in a new way. A lot of my poetry is about food, loss and failing bodies. There's a selfish, subconscious reason for that. If just one otherwise disenfranchised person feels even a tiny bit less alone because of one line of my poetry? In my opinion that is a humbling, and very powerful incentive to keep writing.
These are words, people. Just words. We need to keep things in perspective and refrain from becoming arrogant about our ability to document the world around us. Yes I aspire to write just one, perfect, profound line of poetry but neither mine nor anyone else's poetry is going to stop the war, provide jobs or cure cancer. We write because we have things to say, because words are whirling around in our heads and they have to come out in ways no one but poets would think of saying them. To the extent they find an appreciation in “civilian” non-poets I say that is a few minutes of introspection that we gave as a gift.
Our role is to create backstory to the conversations on which we eavesdrop, and to find the ridiculous in the everyday. The city in which I live just had a "guns for gift cards" program where a person could turn in a gun, no questions asked, for a $100 gift card to a grocery store. That's great, get guns off the street and put turkeys on holiday tables. The second part of this was you could turn in an assault rifle for a $200 gift card. There's something slightly odd about this; should we wonder about the person who turns in an AK-47 for $200 in groceries? It will be a poem, it will have to be, and it will be written by someone far more clever than I.
There will always be poets who write such gorgeous, heart-stopping words that I can't even believe I have the nerve to think of myself in their same spectrum. Each of us probably has two or three poets we would give our souls to understand and know, and maybe, more than ever, that is the role of the poet today. In addition to cataloguing the absurdity of our times it is to hold up a mirror by which we can all see ourselves, and teach us how to try to be better humans.