The residency had not gone well so far. The students seemed worn out or beaten down and hadn't expressed interest in poetry of any kind, cowboy or otherwise. Even the sky over Jeffrey City looked depressed, as if it were hanging on and hoping for a better day. (27)The students he is teaching are a practical lot, mostly, and are similar to other students he has taught:
One of the bigger, tougher boys looked hard at me and said, "Are you famous?"He was trying to get across the power of senses and the power of extraordinary actions, so he asked them to go out and lick at tree
"I want to know if you're famous."
We'd had a lesson eaqrlier in the week on oxymorons, those paired opposites, like "burning ice," "jumbo shrimp," and "compassionate conservative." I thought I'd make a joke and let myself off the hook at the same time, so I said, "'famous poet' is an oxymoron."
"Oxymoron, my ass," the boy said. "No bullshit. Are you famous or not? 'Cause if you're not, I got no time to be out licking trees."
You're not like us is what he meant. And if you're not famous--i.e., rich--then we dont' have to be like you. (24-25)
I kind of see the tree licking as a metaphor for poetry itself, in this case. The student didn't see the value in something bizzare like tree licking, and sure as hell didn't see the value of words laid out on the page in a strange fashion. Ultimately, it seems, the idea of poetry is not seen as a new way of perceiving, but as a strange activity done by people who "live far away in big cities, or are dead" (27).
Even the cowboy poetry that folks in the towns he visits
I would argue that those folks who don't paint their barns in the West
I am making an anology with poetry and painting a barn here. By that I mean that poetry is not mere decoration, but is vital to our lives. How is it vital? Well I won't proclaim any sort of grand expertise other than just living, but poetry gives us a way of looking at something in different ways. It also gives us a method of expressing something that is difficult to express. A life without poetry, in other words, is a unpainted barn exposed to the elements. Ultimately it will decay faster and become useless.
Marianne Moore puts it like this:
I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a
high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician... (Poetry 1-21)