Politics and Poetry

Politics & Poetry Episode 6 ~ Part 1: Chelsea Rathburn

March 21, 2022 Lisa Campbell, Ron Campbell and Lexi Hunter
Politics and Poetry
Politics & Poetry Episode 6 ~ Part 1: Chelsea Rathburn
Show Notes Transcript

We are honored and thrilled to have Chelsea Rathburn, Georgia's Poet Laureate, join us for our sixth episode of Politics & Poetry.  Part one of a two part conversation, join us as we discuss the power of poems and political words to connect with others.  We'll also talk about the work of the Poet Laureate, Chelsea's approach to difficult conversations through poetry, and our collective experiences as writers and readers of personal stories that help us see ourselves in each other's shared experiences.

To learn more about Chelsea Rathburn visit: https://chelsearathburn.com/

Publications ~ Poetry Collections

Still Life with Mother and Knife. Louisiana State University Press. 2019. ISBN 978-0807169742
A New York Times Bestseller “New and Noteworthy” Book
Winner of the 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Award in Poetry

A Raft of Grief. Autumn House Press. 2013. ISBN 9781932870794.
ISBN: 9781932870794


Carrollton GA (September 26, 2020). Georgia Poet Laureate Chelsea Rathburn https://carrolltonga.com/event/georgia-poet-laureate-chelsea-rathburn/

Georgia Center for the Arts. (n.d.).
What we do.

Mercer University (n.d.).
Faculty and Staff.

National Endowment for the Arts (2009).

Poetry Foundation (n.d.). Poets

Poets.org. (n.d.). About Chelsea Rathburn

Poets.org. (n.d.). Poems

Washington & Jefferson College (March 10, 2022). Poetry Reading

Ron Campbell:

Welcome to Episode Six of Politics & Poetry!  Today we are thrilled to be joined by Georgia’s current Poet Laureate, Chelsea Rathburn. Chelsea Rathburn is the author of three full-length poetry collections, most recently Still Life with Mother and Knife, a New York Times “New & Noteworthy” book. Still Life with Mother and Knife was named one of the 2019 “Books All Georgians Should Read” by the Georgia Center for the Book. Chelsea’s first full-length collection, The Shifting Line, won the 2005 Richard Wilbur Award, and her second collection, A Raft of Grief, was published by Autumn House Press in 2013.

Lisa Campbell: 

Rathburn’s poems have appeared in the nation’s most esteemed journals, including Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, The Southern Review, New England Review, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series. In a 2019 feature, NPR called Rathburn’s work “arresting” and “a gentle whirlwind.” In 2009, she received a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

From her website we learned that while Chelsea was born in Jacksonville and raised in Miami, Florida, Rathburn has deep roots in the state of Georgia, where her mother’s family has lived since the 1830s. In 2001, Rathburn moved to Decatur after completing graduate school at the University of Arkansas. From 2013 to 2019, she lived in the North Georgia mountains with her husband, the poet James Davis May, and their daughter. There, she directed the creative writing program at Young Harris College. Rathburn is currently a professor at Mercer University in Macon.

Rathburn has taught poetry workshops in a variety of settings and served as a local, regional, and state-wide judge for Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation contest created by the National Endowment for the Arts.  In a recent interview, Chelsea shared, “For me, one of the most thrilling things about serving as Poet Laureate is that is, essentially, we serve as ambassadors for the literary arts, especially poetry, which doesn’t always enjoy the best reputation. Too often, people encountered poetry in high school, reading poems by long-dead writers and being forced to shake the meaning out of them. So a Poet Laureate serves in part to show people that poetry is alive and approachable.”

We are so thrilled to join in conversation with Chelsea Rathburn!

Ron Campbell:

A conversation about how we want to live together, that's fundamentally what politics is at its core. It goes from there into the party dialogues, but at its core, it's just a conversation about how we want to live together.

Chelsea Rathburn:

And I think, essentially, that's what poetry is, as well, as, you know, a conversation, I always just think about a poem as being a particular voice, attempting to express what it means to be alive in a particular moment. I think when when we hear the word politics, so often, we think about, we imagine political campaigns, you know, we think about campaigning versus actual governance, governing. And what I think one of the real joys of, for me personally, being Poet Laureate here in Georgia, has been that I have actually gotten to witness, elected officials governing, versus campaigning, some moments, right, some of my favorite moments have been, at the state level. I judge, a high school Contest, which I'm happy to talk more about later, but I judge a high school contest. It was started by my predecessor, Judson Mitchum. And it's called the Georgia poet laureates prize. But in non COVID times, it is the winner and the finalists, their high school students, and we would have a big celebration at the Capitol. And I mean that that was just such an amazing experience, you know, going to the state capitol with these high school kids, their families and watching.  Seeing them take in this beautiful setting, and then interacting with our governor, you know, and it was just really incredible, you know, seeing the governor of Georgia, just interacting with, with these young people in this just incredibly human way.  Actually one of one of the finalists, back in 2019 actually challenged him to a thumb wrestling contest. I think it was a dare, from our friends wrestled, I think there were some press photos of it, it was just incredible. But, you know, that's, that's at the state level. 

But I also, you know, as Laureate and I sometimes do things like, you know, read poems at special events, and, and I was commissioned to, to write a poem for a rededication ceremony of a local library, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. And so I got to go to this ribbon cutting ceremony and read a poem. And that was so moving to me, simply because it was, you know, members of the community, people who supported the library, who were really passionate about it. And then all of these local elected officials, you know, the county CEO was there, and members of the Board of Commissioners, and everybody was on a first name basis. And it was really, you know, watching these people talking about how you know, exactly how the funds were secured, you know, some minutiae exactly how this came together and, and in service of a community's needs. That was really, really amazing. And that, I think, is the sort of thing that I just didn't think about, you know, political systems, or our elected officials working for us on a, you know, on a day to day basis before I got into this role.

Lisa Campbell:

Absolutely. One of my inspirations politically and that I've been following is Mary Margaret Oliver, who's been a long time serving legislator in Georgia. And some a friend of mine was telling me a story this week about one of her staffers, and they said, you know, she closes every staff meeting by saying, Yeah, they've got a lot of big pieces of legislation that they're working on, which closes every meeting saying, you know, have we helped a Georgian today? No, have we helped our community today? How did we help a Georgian today? So really bringing it down to you, that's why she's doing it. And that's what politics is. But so this other idea of it's this bigger thing that has a life of its own, and it's somehow this very scary thing, and it can be.  Well, we have so many other questions to kind of pose to you. And I might like to kind of go back a little bit Dad, you had some very specific thoughts and feelings I think when you were first getting into Chelsea, your most recent book Still Life With Mother And Knife. So I'm going to throw the ball over to you to maybe share a little bit about that and some of your questions.

Ron Campbell:

Well, Chelsea, that book for me. When I had it in my hand for the first time, it gave me pause, beginning with the title itself, along with illustration, cover design, and each of his 37 poems as I considered the contents. And for me, it was what did it all mean? And you know, I'm a mature 70 some odd year old family man. So fairy tales from my childhood I knew something of, within the context of postpartum was an unfamiliar walk in the woods for me as a child. I knew some storybooks of rhymes and cats and witches, trolls, jabs, curses, magical wishes, happily ever after life. I  personally grew up in patriarchy. I became a patriarch, and I married fortunately a feminist and she chose equality. And she introduced me literally to a richer, fuller life, based on mutual love and respect, and, in her own way, invited me to walk through the woods together hand in hand, and to drink deep along the way. And one of her favorite sayings was drink deep or taste not of the Pierian Spring, and so we shared the pains of miscarriage at home. Three years into our marriage, the births later of three healthy daughters growing up and accompanying their mother, feminists in our daughters passages from childhood into full womanhood, discovering the world confronting the challenges of American patriarchy gives me pause to strengthen our commitments together as feminists. 

Your poems, I had the opportunity to read and consider them, provided me and our family reassurance that we're on the right path as you expressed it, equality for all reading through in, in your book of poems there. And let me just pause with that to say, there is so much depth and richness that every mother and child encounter and consider and learn together as they go through the things that you wrote about in your poetry. I never did find an answer fully to the illustration, cover design. But I did consider it to be a microscopic perspective of the placenta. That was the best that I could do. I didn't find any confirmation of that. But in the poems, I did find substantial confirmation and validation that I was on the right track with that explanation for me of the link with the cover designed with the contents of your book of poems Still Life With Mother And Knife.

Chelsea Rathburn:

My interpretation of the cover is also that it's placental. That's, that is what it reminds me of, it's actually an extreme close up of dried paint, I think on a paint can. Absolutely. But, you know, poets, we, we actually have little to no input into our covers, you know, no control, we can't, we can't dictate the design. Although the first, but essentially what I told my press, the book is Louisiana State University Press, as my publisher, and they're, they do absolutely wonderful books. One of my favorite poets, and one of my mentors is the the late Claudia Emerson and I have, for years had had read LSU, press books, and always, they've always been my dream press. But when I when I gave them the manuscript when it was finished, I seem to have as far as the cover goes, I really want something that looks, you know, chaotic. I'm not sure how to actually not even sure what else I said, I said nothing, nothing too composed, nothing too controlled. And the first image here, there's a sequence of poems in the book, that's a conversation with Eugene Delacroix was paintings of Medea. And I think I suppose I definitely don't want the Delacroix image because it's too composed, it's too too controlled. And that the very first image though, the the first cover mock up was extremely neat. And beautiful, this beautiful design, but I just, I looked at  cried. And I just don't feel like this is, you know, matching, matching the somewhat chaotic or harrowing experiences that that are in this book. And so this was the second that designer came back very, very quickly with this. I said yes. And I wouldn't have been able to articulate this. But this was this was exactly and it does look to be it looks, it looks. It looks like part of part of the body, you know, whether it is, you know, maternal placenta or blood organs, you know, extreme close up the blood vessels, that I think that's perfect.

Lisa Campbell:

I was just going to say that also just mirrors, politics, you know, this idea of, are we all looking for, you know, a neat package of, you know, the state's person, usually the statesman historically, and they have the hope, and they have, it's going to be a happy ending. And, you know, are we, how do we approach that, you know, as we move from sort of our first exposure to maturity and understanding. Well, no, actually governance for states, for large groups of people is messy, is nuanced, is complicated; and, and it's not always an easy, you know, happy ending all packaged. An interesting maybe I'm reaching there for the correlation, but it's so they're so similar in that way. As you are writing 

Chelsea Rathburn: 
I suppose I was just going to talk a little bit about the fact that so many of the book’s poems are, you know, about postpartum and about, you know, very, very particular very personal experiences. When I was writing the book, initially, I began just writing some poems about childhood, but girlhood. And, actually, I mentioned, the poet Claudia Emerson, she had, she looked at some of the, these poems that I was writing, they're there in the first section of the book about girlhood. And she said, you know, these, these are elegies, these are elegies, you know, for, for something lost. And a few of them, I think, maybe, excuse me. One or two of them, I had titled Introduction to I think I had a poem called Introduction to Statistics. And Claudia Emerson looked at some of the other titles, and she just wrote introduction to in front of a couple of them. And she said, Look, now you have a, you have a sequence, you have, you know, you should call all of these poems, Introduction to blank. And once she said that, when she framed it that way, and so, you know, these, these, these poems that, that I'm getting ahead of myself, but there's always a point when I'm working on a project, where I don't know exactly where it's going, you know, I, there's a period where I'm just sort of wandering around in the dark. And I don't know what the shape, final shape is going to be. Sometimes I don't even know what the the middle shape is going to be. I'm really just absolutely lost. And so you hope I'm in the middle of a new project right now and sort of trying to figure out what what is this thing? What does this look like? What is it going to what shape isn't going to assume? But sometimes you get sort of a nudge in the right direction. It was like, once Claudia Emerson said, oh, you should title you know, title, this one, instead of just calling it vigilance, call it introduction to vigilance, and no stick introduction, Introduction to blank, you're, like, oh, oh, you know, who these poems, these poems? I thought they were just these random memories from from various points of my childhood. Oh, I see, I see. I see a shape here, you know, this is this is coming together. This is this is about something larger, it's about some of the particular experiences that that girls have becoming women becoming more aware of our bodies, the ways that the female body is objectified.

You know, there's a couple of encounters in that section of the book with with sexual predators. And once I sort of, you know, started thinking about that shape. Oh, okay, I see what's happening here. And of course, then in the, in the middle of work working on the book, I also started thinking about my pregnancy, which was complicated, extremely complicated. And then, you know, having delivered a beautiful, healthy daughter, I was not prepared for the extent of the postpartum, severe postpartum depression. And I was not, I just wasn't prepared for it. And I also I didn't actually recognize it at first. Because I had, I had grown up with my, my female relatives, talking very openly about their experiences with postpartum and they all had postpartum, they had fantasies of, you know, their babies just sort of disappearing. And, you know, something happening, we would all have these strange deaths, that, that were not exactly wanted, but not you know, it. I, I'll share a poem about that if you'd like. But when, so, when, when my daughter was born, and I, I suffered struggled with postpartum depression. My experience just didn't look like the experience that my female relatives had had. And so it really took a long time even to recognize it. Later, you know, I, once I was coming through to the other side of it, you know, of course, I turned to poetry, because poetry is where I turn it anytime I don't understand something or want to explore it more or attempt to understand it. I started writing about those experiences.

And it wasn't until I was teaching the Greek tragedy Medea, and came across this painting by Eugene Delacroix, of Medea, that I was, that that opened something up for me in a way, because I was able to explore some of the ambivalence that I had, you know, I loved my daughter, I love my daughter more than anything in the world. But I also had a lot of struggle with, you know, feelings of failure as a mother, not just depression, but also, you know, frustration, anger, you know, all of these complexities, and being able to write about that painting kind of gave me a way into this difficult emotional subject matter, I was able to explore it a little bit differently.

Lisa Campbell:

Well, we'd love it, if you would read one of those introductory poems that you just mentioned. And we can talk, a lot about it, you know, in our culture, you know, so much of what you're describing, is often not discussed, maybe it is discussed in intimate circles. And, you know, right now, there is a huge society wide conversation about specifically women's rights in this area of great complexity, great nuance, great personal intimacy. And I wonder how you feel as a poet, about our ability to talk about this with each other in a place that is safe, but allows us to actually be vulnerable enough to discover with others who have different views than we do. How to talk about this thing that affects all of us. And we almost, and we rarely talk about it, and maybe all of us as in we are all we've all been born, right? We all have a mother, we all have relationships with mothers and with women in our society. I’ll just pause there.

Chelsea Rathburn: 

Yeah, I mean, I think obviously, women, women's health is a huge public health issue. Women's health should be everybody should be thinking about, about it. I was, I was very surprised, you know, when I was pregnant, how much how much care was given to delivering a healthy baby, you know, as a child, I have what's called an incompetent cervix, and started to go into labor, Very, very early, like I was, I was not gonna be able to bring a baby to term. And luckily, we found out, I had emergency surgery. And then was monitored, you know, weekly, every week or two for the duration of my pregnancy, getting ultrasounds and, and just so much care that they're surgery toward the toward the end. Anyway, all you know, all of this cares and wonderful, wonderful physicians, but then it was, you know, once once my daughter was born, you know, I just I don't think anyone ever even really said what, how are you feeling? You know, it was just all you know, monitoring the babies, the babies vitals and everything. And, and I still think I was seriously anemic when I left the hospital. We're getting to the point where if I stood for more than a couple of minutes, I would start to black out and I was released. You know, and then and then there really wasn't anybody. It just didn't seem like there were systems you know, the right kinds of systems in place to check up on on mental health everything. 

Lisa Campbell:

Well it just, yeah, the idea of for these for these areas that are so deeply personal, you know, how do we as humans in this democratic society, how do we find the ways to talk to each other where we can connect and understand everything you've just described, and maybe read your poem, we could talk a bit more about that this. You know, one of the things that I've feel like we've all witnessed in the last year is, regardless of where you sit on laws related to reproductive freedoms, or rights, the number of women who are showing up to tell their stories, as women, is increasing. And I find that it's positive, but it's also very difficult. Because we're telling these very intimate stories, as you were just describing, often on a big stage. And that may be useful and they may be harmful?

Chelsea Rathburn:

Yes, I find it both. I don't want to say liberating. I've, I find it like simultaneously reassuring, empowering, but also really frustrating. You know, because I feel like so often people need feel compelled to step forward and say, Wait, no, you know, it seems like something comes through through the news cycle about, you know, sexual assault statistics, or sexual harassment, or women's, you know, women's health, and, and suddenly, you know, I feel like, I'm, I'm on social media, and I'm seeing, you know, this sort of Chorus. It's like, the me to movement, you know, everybody want me to well, this happened to me, Well, this happened to me, Well, let me tell you my story. And it feels, in some ways. Okay, well, we're gonna have to do this all over again, you know, in six months, or, you know, we have we have these people's, you know, with incredibly intimate stories, that they're there. There's a, I suppose, a performative aspect of it, that makes me a little uncomfortable, you know, that people have to have to share this kind of vulnerability, regular regular people. I mean, obviously, I'm, I'm a poet who I write about, I write autobiographical poems. And so that's a choice that I make. But there's also something you know, with poetry, we can always hide a little bit, you know, is mentioned earlier, you know, poetry does mystify a lot of people, and sometimes people just, you know, we'll say, 

Well, I just, I don't understand it, or I'm not, I'm baffled by it. And so there, there is always a sense that when, even when you write an autobiographical poem, that you can, you can either say, well, it's not really me as a speaker, you know, it's not that I, it's a construction, you know, it's not, that's not really me. Or you, you know, you can keep things a little bit vague. When I have a poem in the book that describes the end of a subsequent pregnancy, that it is probably more more vague than some of my, some of the other poems in the book. Because there is, I think, even even when we are sharing sort of our deepest selves, in art, there's there's still things that we need to keep personal, you know, there's always their intimate, intimate moments in our lives that aren't, I don't think ever should they shouldn't be for total public consumption. And so I think, I think poetry even, you know, poets who are working autobiographically you know, there is this this kind of dance that we do between, you know, creating the sense that we're really sharing it all bearing everything. But then of course, we're still keeping some details, maybe changing some details or keeping some things private.

I’ll read the very first poem, which the book, the book is in a few different sections. And there's, there's a poem that opens the book that sort of exists outside of those sections, because I think of it as speaking to, to the entire collection. And so I'm going to read a quote, that opens the book. This is by the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, that'll have argued that children should be exposed to the old fairy tales. They're really grisly ones, you know, with not the Disney versions, but the parents should share it share the really dark fairytales with their kids. Because if that was, you know, a sort of cathartic experience and it would allow them to safely you know, sort of root for that Vita in reading for the the downfall of the ogres and witches and things. It was a way of kind of working out of their own resentments of families. So this is a quote from Bettelheim’s uses of enchantment, he says “the child wonders who or what projects him into adversity, and what can prevent this from happening to him. Are there benevolent powers in addition to his parents? Are his parents benevolent powers?” That's one question. The book grapples with this idea, you know, are parents entirely benevolent? 

Postpartum: A Fairy Tale 

The pages of our storybook 

childhoods were ripped 

from the Brothers Grimm, the 

woods always in shadow, 

the apples poisoned, the ladders 

made of bone, 

our mothers telling us early how

much they loved 

and loathed us: how my aunt had

wished to find 

my cousin drowned in the washing 


while my mother hoped her cat 

would climb the walls 

of my crib and steal my breath. Our 

longed-for endings 

told gleefully and in the passive 


Those days were gone, they told us,

but we wondered 

if, as Bettelheim writes, the witches 

and giants 

and the brutal fairy tales are really 


for the parents the child is afraid to 

fear and love, 

what did we make of our mothers’ 


which made us the monstrous 

creatures, changelings left 

by trolls? That they could not, or 

would not save us. 

That we had to learn to walk the 

woods alone.


Then I think I'll read it a poem from that first section. This is called this is essentially going into those dark woods, as girls. This is called Introduction to Statistics. And for poetry nerds, this is a Petrarchan sonnet, which is, in other words, it's started that has in some might say an excessive amount of rhymes. as Shakespeare's sonnets have more variation there there additional rhyme sounds that come in. But the Italian version of the sonnet plays with the same, same sounds over and over. 

Introduction to Statistics.

Suppose we surprised him coming off the path 

into the patch of pines and saw palmettos,

two girls with our child-sized bikes. Suppose 

he had a reason to chase us back to the path, 

his pale face flushed with – what? Desire? Wrath? 

He shouted, “Come back,” but we fled. Who knows 

what he was doing there in the woods. Impose 

an innocent narrative, and still the math 

will come out wrong. There was a flash of skin,

a man in yellow shorts, with dark brown curls, 

a shout. And in the dream that I'm still in 

he stumbles out, a living question mark, 

and we are halfway gone. We're only girls 

playing in the woods. It's hours before dark. 

So that poem that actually began, as, you know, probably five or six pages of just long description, my first drafts are extremely ugly, but just line after line rest Just trying to describe the park, what the park looked like and all of this stuff, it was like very leisurely and long. And then eventually, I thought no, I this actually I want the control, I want to attempt to control this unruly subject matter, you know, the sort of scary subject, this this near this encounter with a predator possible predator? You know what, what if I put this in the little box of a sonnet, you know, so that there's all of this, all of these what ifs, all of this larger darkness that's kind of, you know, just barely contained by this rigid, traditional form.

Lisa Campbell: 

Oh, both of those are so powerful. And Lexi, I'm very curious to know, you're, not to put you on the spot, but your reaction to those poems as a younger woman, and also as a writer, and someone studying writing in this moment?

Lexi Hunter:  

Well, I think that the second one resonates with me a lot. I think the idea too, of putting some thought like that, in a box is relatable on an emotional level as well. I'm also really interested to hear about your process, I think there are bits and pieces that you've shared with us that it kind of goes back to the idea of, you know, like the chaos and like wanting to make it something that is not as chaotic. So it's, it's really, it's, it's both inspiring and scary to hear it, put in that way. I just think too, like I, I'm an I'm a creative as well, and I love to write. I do not really write poetry, but I think that the idea of putting emotion like that in something like that's so structured, it's just really interesting to hear you talk about it in that way. That's something I wouldn't have, I wouldn't have imagined that that would have been the the process, but it's really just striking me the way that that was un-earthed that way, I think a good practice for writers and also for people, I think, that are reading it as well to kind of think about the structure as well.

Chelsea Rathburn

I think that poems for poems to be compelling, I think they need some sort of tension in them, you know, it's what we talk about, we disparage we all disparage, you know, the sort of greeting card, you know, very, very sweet, sentimental, that that kind of verse that we find a greeting cards, yet we all buy them. But you know, that what, what's wrong with, you know, just 100% sweet loving poem. There's, there's no darkness, there's, there's, there's got to be something, some sort of tension. And I think, you know, I think poetry, just, in general poems operate in this balance of, there's this inherent tension in a poem, you know, in that, for one thing, you know, simply the lines are not going all the way across the page in paragraph form. There's some reason you know, that they're, they're hanging there in the middle of the page, why, you know, why are the lines broken the way that they are? 

But there's, there's also this, you know, this, this tension in that a poem, it, it feels spontaneous, you know, it feels as though it is sometimes, like conversational speech, you know, spontaneous speech, and yet it isn't, you know, poem is, is something crafted, right? It's something that, you know, even poems that, you know, provoke extreme emotions in us, you know, and they feel extremely raw, they're nonetheless, there they are, works of art artifice, right, that they've been, they've been made, somebody has arranged these lines in these sounds, to produce this effect. And I just think there's, you know, kind of an interesting tension there. And so as, as, you know, my own practice, I think a lot about those those kinds of tensions is, you know, is is there an inherent tension in the subject matter? You know, might that that tension be amplified by something like, you know, the poem that I read, Introduction to Statistics, where, you know, it's got all of this, the subject matter is extremely big, but let's put it in kind of the tiniest little box possible. That's a way of amplifying that. They're out there other ways to do it too, you know, but that's a form, I think, is an interesting one thinking about structure; structure versus content.

Lisa Campbell:

I think, you know, in the process of even writing, say, like a political stump speech, or, you know, answering a question, there's a similar in some ways, similar process of wanting to tell your human story, your personal story, but also having a fixed space in which to do it. And in a way that sometimes can take something that's very personal, an effort to be vulnerable, so that other people can hear your story, and also maybe hear their own story. But I also see politics as as has a similar constraint. And in some ways, too, because you are represent, you're hopeful, you're hoping to represent multitudes of people. And not every story is the same, and we're not all coming to it from the same place; and this balance between the universal shared feelings and truths, and then the recognition that we're all also unique and different, and every story will have a slight variation; and do we want do we want to hear our own variation; do we want to hear others’ variations?

Chelsea Rathburn:

Something I see a lot with young poets, you know, I teach at the college level and so often, beginning writers will come into a classroom, and they want to write extremely vague poems, these poems that are so vague, that, you know, sometimes it is absolutely unclear as to what the subject matter even is. Yeah. And then why would this is so abstract, what is what is this about? What is this and the young poet will sometimes say, “Well, I just wanted it to be, I wanted it to be universal. I wanted it to I wanted people to make of it anything they wanted,” now, and it's like, oh, no, no, no, stop, stop, stop. Think about, think about the great poems, think about these poems that you personally respond to? You know, it's actually through the specific, she said, the political, political speech, you know, it, I think the best speeches are also similarly, you know, they're, they're the stories that, that they, they are telling specific stories, you are attempting to represent the many, through the specific through the individual. And I think with poems, you know, there there are some poems that I always tried out in my classes and say, Well look, look at you know, just how unbelievably specific this this one particular person's experiences. And then we talk about the ways that, you know, as a poet is telling a story, our minds are supplying our own experiences, you know, we're making analogs.

I always there's a wonderful Richard Blanco poem, he read the the poem at Barack Obama's second inauguration. But, and that's not the poem that I bring out to bring out. An earlier problem is called, Looking For the Gulf Motel. But in it, in it, Richard Blanco is thinking back to being a child and going on vacation with his parents and, and they would embarrass him by bringing a food along with them espresso machine and pork roast, reeking of garlic, going through the lobby. And I always tell my, my students, when we look at this poem, I see you know, this, I have not had this exact experience, but every time I read it, I think of my father, and how he drove this horrible Ford Pinto that he bought for 100 bucks, and it's falling apart; and I was so embarrassed in junior high that I would make him drop me off a couple blocks away from school, and then I would walk the rest of the way. This was so stupid, of course, because anybody could see me getting out of it still getting out of the car, they happen to be driving by except then there was also you know, here I have to do embarrassed or proud or whatever. 

Anyway, I love that, you know, sort of, I'll then invite my students say, Well, what you know, what kind of comparisons are you making? What images from your family experiences are you supplying us? We're hearing this this poet's very, very particular experience that we haven't actually had. But he's he through through telling his specific experience, we are all coming along and saying, Oh, yes, yes, I'm I've been there, right? I've had something like that. Not that, but something like that. And yeah, and I just think it's, it's absolutely, it's through the particular through the well chosen particular detail, you know that a poet brings an experience to life. And it's, you know, what are? What are the terrible things we want to avoid in bad poems? Right? It's just, it's empty platitudes, and abstraction. It's, I'm always suspicious of poems where I feel like the poet is standing up on high and looking down on me, you know, I always like to feel like a poet is meeting me kind of extending a hand and saying, Come with me, walk walk along here with me. Right. And I, I think that those are probably the same things that I appreciate. 

Chelsea Rathburn:

In political speeches, right. And absolutely.

Lisa Campbell:

Yeah, it's powerful ones that can really say, Oh, yes, they're human. They're real. I see their story. I can relate to it.