Now everybody is a poet. After this year-and-a-half of pandemic suffering, social activism, and climate catastrophe, who among us hasn’t reflected very, very extensively on death, justice, and the nature of life itself? That’s exactly what makes people into poets.

Of course, there’s also our predisposition to staring off into space, along with a strict, strange discipline around scribbling words. I sometimes hear people say that no one can teach anybody to write a poem. Sometimes they say it to me, even though they know I teach exactly that. It’s okay. That’s what my job is: facing down the fire-demon known as doubt.

You are already a poet. If you have noticed that “the universe is a chaotic, hostile mass of mineral fragments, toxic vapor, and late-capitalist detritus that doesn’t give a damn about you,” you’re ready to fight. What are we fighting? Doubt about the necessity of beauty.

That doubt is the parent of every other troublesome doubt, like whether we can turn the environmental crisis around in time to avoid immense suffering, or whether social diseases can be effectively cured.

“Sakyamuni Buddha announces another prophet” folio from a text from 15th-century Herat, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Plug your ears and hum loudly when anyone tells you these doubts. Interestingly, I don’t think anyone doubts that people can be taught to make art. Why don’t more people understand that a poem is a piece of art?

This is why I don’t think a poem is going to save the world. But I do think that if poetic consciousness finds nourishment in this world, the sweetness of compassion will grow. Maybe even that seems like too small a thing. But in the flutter of a hummingbird’s wing, who knows what might happen? The opposite of legions of doubt is a host of fiery angels.

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