A PRAISE OF WEEDS
Each of us makes his own anthology
the critics don’t decide, with countless poems
nobody else may know exist but which
have hallowed what it means to be alive.
Subversives, me included, carry books
with turned-down pages, starred lines, margin notes,
each poem a wholeness clarified by years
of living forth its held-close subtleties.
By nature, quiet truths do not engage
to argue for their worth, especially
to those made deaf haranguing some agenda.
Some readers make an audience more lasting
than official, reciting lines that faint
the air with sense,
resolved, prayer-full, content.
The title of the poem playfully and perhaps not so playfully strikes at the idea behind the word “anthology,” which entered our language from a Greek word that means “a collection of flowers.” I was forty when I wrote the poem almost a decade ago, but I had long ago noticed that so many poems I admire never find their way into anthologies. There are many factors that influence anthology selections, and in truth there are too many poems for any one person to keep up; nonetheless, so many “weeds” matter more to me personally than some of the “flowers” others have collected for me to admire.
Furthermore, despite teaching at a college and introducing anthologies to students—i.e. the poems that are supposed to matter, the poems critics have decided are valued, favored, exceptional, accomplished, etc.—I’ve often thought that each of us creates a different anthology of poems that matter more to us than do the ones that have become the “official” selections. I have often strayed from these official poems and have taught other poems I think are just as good if not better. In doing so, I have felt like a “subversive,” challenging the dominant narrative of which poems matter. In some small way, my own choices—whether memorized, copied into notebooks, or taught to my classes—offer a push-back to or a restoration of the narrative I am supposed to be following. I keep creating, through these other choices, a syllabus other than the one I have been handed and told to follow.
Because I believe we see part but never the whole, I’m encouraged by how the fullness of time’s unfolding will likely reveal a different narrative than the one we believe we hold. I’m encouraged to believe that a wider and more lasting audience may emerge for some of these so-called “weeds.” I like to think that “turned-down pages, starred lines, [and] margin notes” have an effect that goes undetected, especially in how so many readers live forth a poem’s “held-close subtleties,” thereby radically changing the nature of our common existence.
Quiet truths have always appealed to me. I imagine them fainting the air with a different kind of “sense”—one that is ultimately “resolved, prayer-full, content.” We live in a world of competing narratives, competing “agendas,” all of them attempting to gain power over the others. Meanwhile, truth knows what it knows and feels no need to “argue for [its] worth.” It just is.
It doesn’t need to be noticed, or “decided,” or deemed worthy. It is content to be itself in a way that few of us seem able to hear, imagine, or be.
Unlike the self or the soul, it is a narrative that doesn’t need to be restored.