“Poets aren’t very useful.
Because they’re aren’t consumeful or very produceful.”
”To have a friend, be a friend.”
-What My Mom Used To Say (And Sometimes Still Says)
It seems about time, after two-hundred and twenty-two weeks of wandering around with all these words — mucking about in the mud, watching tadpoles, feeling storms — to stop, and sit, and yawn, and scratch my nose, and read some Nash, and remember that I don’t want — oh, please, no — to get produceful.
I think an emphasis on useful can push us towards using. It can show us a world of pulleys and levers, where I wonder what friends to make so I end up with friends in high places, what words to say so people like me, what trampolines to find so I’m launched up by springs others made to land high on ‘success.’ (I imagine it as the cement statue of a fat elephant, or maybe a heffalump, actually, decorated with plastic bits and mirrors). When I teach to be useful, I’m thinking about where to get my students to sit, what to lead them into doing, what habits to imprint on them, so they can make people like them and bounce on trampolines, too. And I don’t want that world. I get pulled there, I trick myself to going there, I get convinced it’s the only “here,” but it’s not, and I don’t want it.
Nash doesn’t say that poets don’t do those things: they aren’t those things. Their world is a place of being and becoming. Be friends. Be kind. Be an actual elephant, peanut eating, water spouting, or a someone, evening yawning, nose scratching, water watching, or an uncle, baby holding, spit-up cleaning, feet planting so you can be the jungle gym on which your niece is climbing swinging. There is so much more to all of this than levers and pulleys. I don’t want to push and pull and calculate until my life falls out, fully wrapped, from the factory I’ve imagined. I don’t want to keep asking if I’m productive. Poets aren’t very useful. They make friends to be friends. If a teacher is a teacher like a poet is a poet, it’s something they are: supportive, open-minded, encouraging, attentive, silly, respectful, excited to see and ready to share. Poets are sayers of funny things. They’re listeners. They’re makers. They’re sharers. They are. And if teaching poetry taught me anything, it’s that everyone — everyone, everyone — can write a poem.