I’m going to celebrate National Poetry Month by having an argument with a 94-year-old-man.

In his 2001 poem “Challenges to Young Poets,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti (born 1919) says “To be a poet at sixteen is to be sixteen; to be a poet at forty is to be a poet.” (He’s probably referencing the 19th century artist Eugene Delacroix, who said something similar.)

Jessy Randall.

Jessy Randall.

I disagree. I think to be a poet at sixteen is to be a poet, and to be a poet at forty is to be a poet. But I do agree that most teenage poets do not stay poets, and I lament that.

When I was in high school I knew many great poets. I was in class with them. I saw them every day. I read their poems every week. I knew they were much better than I was. I KNEW it, objectively. (In college I would argue against the idea of objective quality as hard as I argued for it in high school, but that’s another story.)

Everyone wrote poetry then. Some people hid it more than others, but I was an editor of the high school literary magazine and I’m telling you, EVERYONE wrote poetry. Even the people you would least suspect.

But then, somewhere along the line, they all stopped (except me). I wish they hadn’t. They were so good! I would like to read what they would have written, if they’d kept on writing.

I don’t usually try to defend poetry or say that it helps the world. I’m usually not certain that poetry does anything except make me (and some other people) occasionally happy or sad or some other emotion. This week, however, I read a poem that made me think poetry might serve a larger function.

After the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, everyone around me (physically and virtually) was upset and didn’t know what to say or do. We mostly threw up our hands. Maybe we reached out to each other a little bit, but mostly we threw up our hands, as we do after school shootings (see this article in The Onion).

Poet Scott Poole, however, wrote a poem. I know Scott a little bit. We read together last year in Spokane, Washington. I’m a huge fan. He is hilarious. Not this time, though. Here’s the poem he shared on Facebook: Read more…