Paul Guest, Words have meaning. They have mass…

12 Jan

For much of Saturday I was away from my usual tethers to the world: email, Google, even Twitter, with its endlessly trending stream of the Moment. Not that I was particularly vexed – I was carrying an iPad around in my backpack, for God’s nauseous sake. Later, I even found I could steal a hotel’s free Wi-Fi, from down the street. I was checking illicit email within a few minutes. And that’s when I began reading about the assassination attempt on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Her surgeon said she was shot “through and through” the head. Meaning her brain.

And it wasn’t long before articles began citing a graphic Sarah Palin put out before the recent election with various congressional districts under “target” – each of them tagged with the crosshairs of a rifle.


Words have meaning. They have mass. We build poems with them, with the unspoken prayers that maybe, just maybe, they might last a little while. Almost none will. And that’s ok, right? Somewhere just outside the long shadow of futility a few poems go on. There is the Grecian urn and the west wind and Fern Hill and so on. Keats died awfully and Byron – did Byron drown? – and Dylan Thomas drank himself all the way gone.

Why do you write poems?


I’m working on two new books: my next collection of poems, which has run off in strange, unexpected ways, and another nonfiction book. Both are exciting, and feel good to turn to after the long difficulty that writing my memoir One More Theory About Happiness was. By temperament, I’m not much for talking about myself, even though I’m a poet – I love the fiction that poetry provides. I make myself up every time. But writing the memoir didn’t truly afford that same pleasure, that freedom. Lest you end up on Oprah, being eviscerated by a billionaire talk show host, you feel the need to stick to the facts. Best as you know how. I feared this would keep me from writing many new poems while working on my memoir, and this turned out to be true. When I finished the book, and when it was out, I could feel my mind gradually begin to return to poetry. That process is still going on, to an extent. But, it’s also exciting, like stumbling about in partial darkness, slowly finding my way again.


No New Year’s resolutions, again. What about you?

Paul Guest is the author of three collections of poetry and a memoir. A Whiting Award Winner, he lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he teaches at Agnes Scott College.

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