was born in
His first book, Poems, was published in January 2004 from Orchises Press and was a finalist for the PEN/Osterweil prize. His chapbook of fifteen sonnets, In Defense of the Fall, was published by Trilobite Press in 2000. The Essential Hockey Haiku (a poetry/fiction collaboration with Chad Davidson) was published by
Poch was a recipient of the Discovery/The Nation Prize in 1998 and has been awarded residencies at the MacDowell Colony,
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Ive been thinking about dolls. My first daughter, since she was able to crawl,
crawled with a doll in her clutches. As if it werent hard enough learning to get
around without the encumbrance of this doll. This is the beginning of love: when we put
someone or something else before ourselves. For a poet, this might be a reader.
My daughter nurses the doll as she was nursed. She chastises the doll as she is chastised. She tucks, feeds, washes, and wishes. Watching her at this game, I get some perspective on myself. We see us as we truly behave, as John Ashbery says in the first line of his first book.
Poems are dolls of a sort. Paper dolls. Youve seen a child playing with a doll, pretending it was speaking, and speaking to it, and then berating it. This is an analogy that shows why poetry critics are so silly to us. Nevertheless, the engaged critic may be the most innocent of all. The poem, this shell of a thing isnt really alive, but if we imagine hard enough, it comes alive, and it speaks, and we speak to it, and we come back to it again and again, and we want it to be good.
Every good reader is childish and silly, and the world is against her. Jesus says, Unless you are transformed and become like a child, you cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. I assume he means: the child who plays with dolls; not the child who does well on her homework or who eats all her dinner.
When we look at another person, we only glimpse the shell of that person. Even the person we love the most. People are dolls in this way.
Every time I write a grant or have to justify poetry to some well-meaning person with practical questions, I feel helpless and utterly ridiculous. Ask a child to justify a doll, and she will scowl at you as she holds it tightly to her chest. Most boys play with dolls, but we have to call them action figures. El poeta, they say in Spanish. That a on the end is very feminine. Im comfortable with that. What good is it to read a poem? A great good. What good is it to write a poem? Remember Bartleby?
Why imagine a life, when our difficult lives need our attention so badly? Difficult. Perhaps the only way to deal with the difficult life is to play at another life. Sometimes we avoid the problems with our imaginative escapes, but sometimes we figure a way through the difficulties when we come back fresh from playing. Re-creation. Making the world anew. It is horrible that I end up having to justify play, when play needs no justification. It needs a childs attention.
Adults have to re-learn to play with dolls. To let go of the world and business. You cant understand Lorcas Duende unless youve been to Andalucía. You cant enjoy poems until you give up your attachment to the literal. You cant understand a doll unless you get on the floor with a little girl and believe.
The more rustic a doll, the more I like it. The more realistic, the less so. Dolls that are too real make me uneasy. Like clowns. Perhaps thats why I like the artifice of a sonnet. Others praise poems made of real speech that function the real way we think. Give me the hunk of wood, stuffing, and fabric that barely looks like a doll, and Id rather play with that, and create a life for it. A life constructed out of its formal artifice. It needs some form. You cant imagine too long with a hunk of coal or a dish towel. Yet that tear in the dolls hem tells me of some profound tussle. That awkward bend in the arm needs a doctor. I can construct a world around a detail. You can play with a robot for about three minutes, total. You can imagine on and on with a flimsy, lifeless doll for hours. A good poem. We get to, God-like, breathe life into this shell of a being. It becomes. It becomes us.
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