Here is an excerpt from a book I read recently, Fooling With Words, A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, Bill Moyers, William Morrow & Company, Inc. New York, 1999.
Bill Moyers has been in television broadcasting since the 1970’s and has produced television programs on a good variety of subjects. In this book he interviews eleven poets who participated in the 1998 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, asking them about their writing and views on poetry in general. Here is an excerpt from his interview with Mark Doty.
(chapter 4, page 59)
author and poet Mark Doty
[i]One of poetry's great powers is its preservative ability to take a moment in time and make an attempt to hold it. Yeats said a great and terrifying thing: "All that is personal soon rots unless it is packed in ice or salt." Of course the ice and salt he meant was the power of form, the preservative element of language, which can hold a moment from the past, allow us to return to it, and allow us to give it to someone else. That element allows you as a reader to enter imaginatively into the poem, be part of it yourself, and bring your losses to bear upon it--so that the poem becomes a kind of meeting ground between us. Art has that power. What the poem makes is a version of a moment, a replica, a touchstone--something to keep, and to give away. We shape a poem in order to let it go; the process of crafting the poem, of trying to get everything from line to sonic texture to each individual word just right involves standing back and gaining a greater degree of distance from what we've said. A good poem may begin in self-expression, but it ends as art, which means it isn't really for the writer anymore but for the reader who steps into and makes the experience of the poem her or his own. Therein lies the marvel: The poet's little limited life becomes larger because readers enter into it .
. . . I find great hope in that sense of connection with other people, the possibility that the worst experiences might be transformed into a place where we might meet and stand together. It happens. So often after a reading someone will come up to me, someone who has just heard a poem or read one of my books, and say, “You said how I felt.” We need that, I think, as a species; we are the creatures which represent, which long to be represented. As a reader, I am always looking to recognize my own experience in others’ work. That’s one of the things I love most about literature, coming across a passage which says what I know but have never been able to say.