A friend of mine recently made what I consider a very profound statement. Google credits George Carlin with the phrase, but I don’t recall hearing it in his comedy routine, although it does sound vaguely familiar. Nonetheless, when I heard it recently, it struck a chord with me. The idiom is this: More people write poetry than read it.
It is a witty statement regardless. However, I thought about it more and more as its humor would not leave my head. My brain turned to the movie Dead Poets Society and the reason given for poetry at all: to woo women. If you have never seen the film, I highly recommend it; it is a funny, dramatic and thought-provoking story about the passion of life, albeit with dark messages at times.
Back to wooing women – this, I think, explains why more people write poetry than read it, not that all poetry is for the purpose of romantic encounters. Perhaps the true poet writes as “a lover’s quarrel with the world,” but most people writing poetry are not real artists. We amateur poets are somewhat selfish people wanting our voice to be heard, hoping our thoughts will be measured well and praying our opinion is admired.
The truth is the motive of “more people” writing poetry is not very honorable. We would rather be heard than listen. Perhaps this is why so few read the rhymes of others. Let me say that again: We would rather be heard than listen. And it is not limited to poetry. It is in every social interaction. Even as I as I write this blog post, I am a hypocrite to words I offer.
I recall the years between my divorce and my recent nuptials. I would think about my loneliness, sometime write about it. I notice others doing the same. We all seek companionship; we all look for someone to give us love. But this desire is forged from the same furnace as out poetry. We want to receive love without necessarily wanting to give it. We hear someone complain, “I need someone to make me happy.” Yet we don’t hear the converse often: “I'm selflessly looking to fulfill the desires of another person.”
The truth is we are self-centered creatures, even in our most intimate relationships. At least I am. And I yearn for what I want more commonly than I think to notice the needs and wants of others. I would rather receive than give. I would rather be provided than serve. I would rather be heard than listen.
Now, I understand that altruism does not really exist and that the selfish motive occurs as a means of preservation. Not even Mother Teresa was completely selfless. Humans are quite simply built to be this way. Whether the explanation is original sin, biological evolution or shadows on the cave wall, the reality is we are selfish beings.
However, humans are also intelligent and adaptable beings. We do not have to respond to stimuli and instinct. We have wisdom, reason and will, and these characteristics separate us from the animals. It is from these qualities, the true poet writes.
May I strive to better silence my own voice and read the poetry of others.