Here, on the brink of a new semester, standing on the shore with my students, pushing our poetry longboat out to sea. One set of oars for each of us, and me rowing with them in unison. I will remind my students that this is a craft, this art, that rides on the sea; it’s work, not mystery. There is no goddamned “muse.” No lightning. We make by our sweat and toil a gliding over the water. Or we don’t.
And I will share with them this poem by my mentor Tom Lux. It long has been my mantra, my reminder of the fact: of the work of this art–the chiseling that makes spark. This poem is in Thomas Lux’s New and Selected Poems, which is that cavernous hole in your life–if you don’t have this book. So buy it today. Take the info from this website to your independent bookseller, and they’ll order it for you.
AN HORATION NOTION
The thing gets made, gets built, and you’re the slave
who rolls the log beneath the block, then another,
then pushes the block, then pulls a log
from the rear back to the front
again and then again it goes beneath the block,
and so on. It’s how a thing gets made – not
because you’re sensitive, or you get genetic-lucky,
or God says: Here’s a nice family,
seven children, let’s see: this one in charge
of the village dunghill, these two die of buboes, this one
Kierkegaard, this one a drooling
nincompoop, this one clerk, this one cooper.
You need to love the thing you do – birdhouse building,
painting tulips exclusively, whatever – and then
you do it
so consciously driven
by your unconscious
that the thing becomes a wedge
that splits a stone and between the halves
the wedge then grows, i.e., the thing
is solid but with a soul,
a life of its own. Inspiration, the donnée,
the gift, the bolt of fire
down the arm that makes the art?
Grow up! Give me, please, a break!
You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth’s core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosphere.
And with that you go to work.