Question: As a poet, what's your biggest regret?
Answer "I don't' have any." She said she is very happy with her life as a poet and living with her art. She said, "Art is an essential hallway into a spiritual life."
I kept thinking no regrets? None? Is that possible? Okay, so maybe Oliver just means in her poetry life. But still, even with that limitation—and surely her life as a poet must be a huge part of her life—it seems to me kind of, well, not believable. Poetry is the place I go to for happiness, and my life as a poet is intensely exciting and satisfying, even when I'm writing sad poems. Nevertheless, I have lots of regrets as a poet. Why didn't I start sooner? Why didn't I pursue this or that opportunity more aggressively? Why don't I write everyday? Why do I go weeks or longer without producing?
And don't even get me started on other areas of my life. I don't want to go on a real bummer, but I'm always regretting something. The list could go on and on. These thoughts got me to remembering and thinking about a poem I like by Natasha Saje. It's from her collection, Bend (Tupelo Press).
- I regret I sleep so much, that my body
- makes demands I do not refuse. I regret
- my thirties, unreasonable as crabgrass,
- and I regret the two vertical lines between
- my brows, the manifestation of my anxieties
- which of course I also regret. I regret
- the Swiss milk pitcher broken by the neighbor’s
- cat and I regret my soft teeth. I regret nights
- I stayed awake baking or reading novels
- that changed me only momentarily. I
- regret that capitalism is my religion
- and the small red purse I do not use.
- I regret lying in the sun as a teenager and
- not putting a safety catch on my grandmother’s
- brooch. I regret the poisoned dish of lacquered duck
- in 1977, and the squirrel that last year
- got caught in a rat trap. I regret the Procrustean
- bed of my job and having no columbine
- seeds from the beds by the old library. I regret
- the demise of the streetcar and the perils
- of color, and that in my sleep I do not
- dismantle silence. O my Great Lake of Regrets,
- my body a floating island—
I like the structure of the poem, the repetition and list. I like the mixture of serious and trivial regrets, the resulting feeling of disproportion. I like Saje's word choice: manifestation, crabgrass, capitalism, brooch, lacquered, Procrustean, columbine, demise, perils, dismantled. These words appeal to my ear and my brain. And what an ending with its sudden switch to apostrophe and the metaphor that drifts off to an unfinished thought.
Challenge: Make your own list—regrets, minor infractions, things for which you should apologize, or things for which you refuse to apologize. Turn the list into a poem.
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