1) UNFURL YOUR TONGUE.
2) NOT TOO QUIETLY.
3) MOSTLY WITH WONDER.
This is my poet’s version of author/lecturer Michael Pollan‘s advice to anyone who is seeking a sustainable, healthy diet: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (see the PBS documentary based on his book, In Defense of Food)
To anyone seeking a sustainable, healthy vocation as a poet, I advise:
1) Unfurl your tongue — Pay attention to your own physical voice canal, and also to your own “on-mother’s-knee” birthright language. Exult in your natural human metaphors, in your own family’s rhythms, and in your own neighborhood’s idioms. Record and listen to the texture of your own voice. Learn about the tongue as a muscle; then learn about the larynx, pharynx, soft and hard palate (the roof and floor of your mouth), gum line, teeth.
2) Not too quietly — Don’t whisper your poems alone in your room. Leave behind the seated, silent solitude. Stand up, straighten your back, take a big breath. Speak your poetry to an audience (even a digitalized audience on a screen), because a sense of public community will restrain your excesses, keep you honest. And don’t be afraid to be heard. Stand on your own two grounded feet, speak out with your eyes open.
3) Mostly with wonder — Root your tongue, and your feet, in a middle-ground of moderated wonder. A wonder that both beholds without question, and probes with endless questions. During your human life, you will experience horrors as well as halos. The horrors will overcome you with wondering, wandering lamentation: oh, how can I go on for even one more hour? The halos will overcome you with wondrous gratitude and praise: ah, how can I keep going forever and ever?
Go forth, and poem yourself.