Artizenship: What One Has To Pay

Sep. 08, 2017 | Jeremy Benson

I’d like you to know, Napa County, that mere weeks after your new Poet Laureate was presented to your Board of Supervisors, he was in his driveway under the hood of his pickup, knees on the radiator, straddling the fan, deftly unscrewing the distributor cap, in a move that could only be described as inelegantly graceful.

Poetry can take you places, but it can’t give you a ride to work.

Since being voted as the Poet Laureate, I’ve been thinking about the people who guided me along my way—poetry professors, good friends and volunteer editors, high school teachers who let me turn in poetry instead of 20-page essays. When I graduated high school, a teacher gave me a collection of poems by Robert Bly. His poetry has stuck with me since that summer of browsing through it, especially the poem “Two Ways To Write Poems”:

Sam’s friend, who loved poetry, played football
In school even though he didn’t want to.
He got hit. Later he said to me, “I write poems.
I am who I am…but my neck hurts.”

I think so often of this, especially as I am butt-end-up working on my car, or as I wake stiff after a week of pruning peach trees. Unlike Sam’s friend, though, I like what I’m doing—isn’t it rad that the Poet Laureate of Napa County does his own oil changes? Maybe. I like doing hard, good work.

Robert Bly’s poem begins, “’I am who I am.’ I wonder what one has to pay / To say that. I couldn’t do it.” I too am struggling with the cost of this juggle of time and money. I work on my car because I can’t afford to take it to the shop every time the Check Engine light comes on. I’ve been working part-time at the Napa Valley Museum to save a bit more (and I’m excited for the shows honoring farm workers). But all that time spent on other things means I can’t always give the time to write. As the band the Hold Steady sings, “Dreams cost money, and money costs some dreams.”

Bly’s poem continues,

How many times I have begun a poem
Before I knew what the main sounds
Would be. We find out. Toward the end
The poem is just beginning to be who it is.

Here I am finding out. My neck hurts, but I am only just beginning. My nose to the grindstone, my pen to the paper, my wrench to the bolts.

Napa County, I am your Poet Laureate, and when I’m not pushing my truck down the street, I’ll be tinkering with our poetry, finding out what our main sounds will be.

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Arts Council Napa Valley 501(c)3 is funded in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.


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