Nobility and Delusion

Sitting in an ice-cream parlour, I remember a man I knew in college whose name I won’t mention who spent a lot of his time in coffee shops living his dream of a life of culture, an intellectual and cosmopolitan leisure with everything in order at his table, his coffee, cigarettes, book of poetry, typescripts, and writing book. Here he did the work no one would pay him for, writing romantic poems about old girlfriends, entertaining conversations with friends and waitresses, investigating the mind as far as it would take him away from his parents and other dependencies. Hie had a part-time job to support him, and a girlfriend, but he was true to himself, and serious in his art. Sitting in the ice-cream parlour, I look around me and wonder, with respect to him, whether I’m right about the life and work of a poet, that it doesn’t require sacrifice, poverty, lovesickness, social unconventionality, that a poet is simply a person who writes poems, but that a poem is more than the application of verbal technique for a preconceived effect. Around me, college students talking about movies and young couples talking about people they work with laugh, whisper, and eat their ice cream. I’m sitting alone; I’m bent over a piece of paper. Where they want to get something out of their experience, I want to make something out of mine. That’s the work. But the life—shall I quit my job and, in public places, entertain the conversations of strangers, and otherwise devote myself to the culture? Sitting in the ice-cream parlour brings it back to me. I have rarely merely decided questions such as this. Either their answers have been thrust upon me or I continue in a life for which my decision is implicit in my unexpressed desire, in the unexamined matter of fact.

16 June 1987