(Ed note: Every volume of The Best American Poetry includes contributors' notes for which the poets share something about the inspiration for the poem chosen for the book. Here's what Major Jackson writes about "Why I Write Poetry," which Denise Duhamel selected for The Best American Poetry 2013. -- sdh)
Some mornings, I wake and say to myself: “I am a poet.” I say this mostly in disbelief, but mostly it is an utterance that connects me to writers of poetry (some of them friends, many not) in other countries and throughout the ages who have decided to courageously break through the anonymity of existence, to join the stream of human expression, to stylize a self that feels authentic, and quite possibly, timeless. The kinship is palpable; the rewards are many; and the act of writing and reading poetry is one that has afforded me endless hours of meditative pleasure and contentment. Other people’s poems afford me the greatest pleasures. On occasion though, a devastating feeling hits me, not unlike that absurdist moment during puberty of looking into a mirror and being startled by the person looking back. “I am a poet.” How did I end up here, in this life? I’ve talents in other areas: why not a career as an orthopedic surgeon or a foreign service diplomat or a partner in some firm? Yet, my life could not have been scripted and nor would I change it. Attempting to identify the significant decisions that have led me here is mostly futile. Over the precious years, the person returning my gaze in the mirror has become increasingly familiar, an old friend and interrogator. But occasionally, I need to write poems that point to the mysteries and attempt to explain the unexplainable.
You can read Major Jackson's poem "Why I Write Poetry" in The Best American Poetry 2013.
Join Major Jackson and David Lehman at the New School (66 W. 12th Street, NYC) on Wednesday, December 11, at 6:30 pm for the final poetry forum of the season. After reading from his work, Major will join David Lehman in conversation and take questions from the audience. FREE More information here.