Declaration of Independence as a Poet

by Jane Engleman

I have become a poet. I have only this. I am not a poet because I have won the Pulitzer Prize or published fourteen books. I know that I am a poet because I have accepted that my heart bleeds rhythm and because I have seen that this rhythm is real as bongos; it is heard, felt, thought, walked, danced, performed and lived. It gives me strength, that same strength, hilariously, that can be handed in purple penmanship to that girl, that kid, that little old lady.

Poetry is not an inferior vocation to be disrespected for money, leadership, power or talent. I am the stoker of coal clods in the basements, at the back, the fire starter. Poetry is all I know. I’ve scraped it from my body; I have twisted and raked it from my mind, my soul. Poetry is my obligatory profession. I have become a poet; I accept my mandates:

I must survive as a human in this place, this planet, this universe.

  • I must feel. I must see as well as I can, know the muscular experience of walking. I must understand what I am feeling, why and what to do about that.
  • I must know when I am in pain or ecstasy and what to do about that.
  • I must think, and know what I think and what to do about that.
  • I have to learn the frustration and utter freedom that I can be only where I am now, currently bounded by the body. The mind is part of the body.
  • I must come to understand how it feels to be well and to learn the centering urge to wiggle and be still.

I must live with the others and do what I can to make it possible for us to be well.

  • When I am in balance with myself, mindful, I will be ready to be in balance with others. This may be a trial. This may be my next hell. But maybe not.
  • Maybe once you have soppingly studied the craft of wobbly canoe, it becomes second nature that, without overturning, you can paddle your way into the kind of creativity that allows for a rocky shore, unfettered voices, transparency of empty ceilings and immense videologs of a life or a culture.
  • The work that I do, that I pour into this may, I hope, replace 50 years of frantic wrassling to “be,” when there was means and motivation to suicide.

I must go back into the prisons for the others.

  • I must remember hell, and sometimes re-experience hell.
  • I must go back in and see the shaking knuckles on the bars, shiny eyes, and I must find those with the passion and the abilities I lack, to work together to jimmy the locks, to heft and carry the wounded back out of hell through the canyons, to where these colleagues can be safe, comforted and healed. And.…

I must annihilate the enemy wherever it is engaged

  • I cannot always clarify the enemy in text or symbols. It is known whenever I see good things in pain or dying unnecessarily.

I must get to “the Point.”

  • We’re living why? That’s “the point.” It is “the point” behind mental hospitals and jails, medical centers, churches and concentration camps, sandboxes and the halls of Congress.
  • It is both the catalyst and the reverberation of our regard for beauty. It far more potent than pharmaceuticals. It has something to do with touch. It contains sadness and fear. Status quo. Surgery. Rapture.
  • “The point” is painstakingly reasoned, yet is completely inexpressible. We find ourselves dry. Experienced in the human body, “the point” can only be expressed in a few billion words in a few hundred languages, by a few poets on the move with pens and performance.

I must honor beauty.

  • Because beauty is why we live. Beauty in all its forms is why I exist.
  • Beauty is, like the Platonic trichotomy of body/mind/spirit, completely indistinguishable from joy and love except as a cognitive exercise.
  • Beauty is both bigger and smaller than life itself. And it is identical.

I must master the poetry that is my own, that calls.

  • Then I will bathe in beauty, ugly as it is, and not drown.
  • Poetry wholly owns me, and is the sole proprietorship of the other billions of us. There is no copyright.
  • Graciously, the universe and its conversation are crudely abridged for common poets. I must:

Care when I can,

Cuddle when I want to,

Labor with intent,

Glow when I absolutely cannot do anything else.