This week I have no faith in language. I must tell you I don’t, but that’s my own failing, not language’s. I feel like it’s the last outpost for us humans. I take it very seriously. I feel language has been utterly cut off by this culture and used in the service of consumerism and that poetry insists on the integrity of words, of a word... The language itself I feel is endangered more than it has ever been. To try to say what we mean, to try to make something beautiful and meaningful from language, feels to me like a profound political act still and a spiritual act.
It’s terrifying, really terrifying what Madison Avenue and people who sell things are doing. I feel like poets and writers are the monks writing illuminated manuscripts, in the sense of trying to preserve the integrity of language, just to expand the possibilities for expression, because the culture is trying to push us into the same twenty words over and over again.
People now want the information fast and they want a certain kind of information that they can eat, essentially, instead of dwelling with mystery. Negative capability, Keats called it—to dwell with uncertainty without grasping after an easy solution. A poem often asks us to dwell there, and it’s unbearable, especially if you have no practice, if you don’t read or if you don’t go off by yourself and sit alone for a while. Even those of us who write, we’re often rushing around. So this dwelling, not fully comprehending something instantly, is very difficult. Anything that pushes us into the depths of our being is very hard to bear. I find it hard to bear. Sometimes I open a book that’s so beautiful I have to shut it because it hurts me. I can’t stand it. It’s like, Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! This is going to drive me into my own heart. A day or two days later I’m saying, All right, and I just surrender to it: Do it to me. Go ahead. I want it. I don’t want it. I want it. I don’t want it.