Empire of Words by Howie Good

The function of a poem is to function as a poem. Its utility lies in its very lack of utility. You can’t eat a poem. You can’t smoke it. You can’t use it to buy gas. In a society obsessed with the pursuit of money and status, with what pays, a poem exists in defiance of all logic and expectation. It’s an act of rebellion against the pragmatic and the commercial and the merely material. Every poem is – or at least can be when lovingly written – a declaration of independence.


A poem creates a space around itself. It creates the space through the deployment of language. The space around a poem is different than the space around other forms and objects. It’s especially charged. It’s charged with lightning, the lightning of heightened consciousness.


How a poem deploys language is more relevant than why the poem deploys language. It intensely matters which word follows which. It intensely matters because a poem is an empire of words. The poet is its ambassador to far countries.


It’s not my place to offer you tips on how to write a poem. This isn’t to say technique can’t be taught. It can be. It isn’t to say either that we all can’t occasionally use help finding our way to and through the creation of a poem. Of course, we can. But the kind of help available from others writers – three tips, five guidelines, 10 rules – isn’t the kind of help we need.


There’s no single prescription for how to write a poem, or what to write about, or where to write, or when. What works for me probably won’t work for you. And what works for me in writing one poem may not work in writing the next.


In my experience, every poem insists on having a life of its own. And it can take a lot longer than nine months for a poem to give birth to itself. I just hope to be ready to receive it when it pops out.


The poem isn’t always fully formed. In fact, it’s often dangerously premature. But if I properly care for it, the poem has a chance to survive and maybe even thrive.


To me, there’s no greater privilege than being a poet. It’s impractical. It’s reckless. It’s necessary. Necessary because somewhere on our suffering planet there ought to be at least one place where a person can go to think and feel and breathe in freedom. The poet discovers that place, and the poem is it.