The title of Wesley McNair’s, Why We Need Poetry, couldn’t be better for purposes here of showing how poetry can be equal in sensual qualities to those in music and the visual arts.

Our current Maine State Poet Laureate chose an early-morning timeframe to portray a well-lit nocturnal environment in which two people converge in the quietest of spaces: 3 a.m, a newly wallpapered kitchen. In our correspondence, Mr. McNair quotes Mary Oliver once calling poetry “intimate conversation.”

We don’t eavesdrop. Rather, we are allowed to participate in the atmosphere of intimacy. It’s palpable, visceral. From, of all things, white bread and cucumber sandwiches to the lines previously unnoticed in the design of the wallpaper to the light in his friend’s eye. I like how he intimates that others might be dreaming in beds upstairs, while he and his friend converse in an oneiric, almost filmic screen. There’s love here. The two friends’ movements during their shared nightshift could well be seen as a mimetic dance performed to the accompanying rhythms of the conversation.

In some ways this seems an Ars Poetica, a manual and recipe at the same time on how to create a poem, all the ingredients listed, and the slow mix in the quiet night. The sensual and aesthetic nature of taste surfaces on many levels, where words on the tongue are savored to a near physical degree. The end of the poem knocks me over, when the poet observes the light has intensified, but distinguishes the cause from merely that of dawn.

* * * * *

Why We Need Poetry

Everyone else is in bed, it being, after all,

three in the morning, and you can hear

how quiet the house has become each time

you pause in the conversation you are having

with your close friend to take a bite

of your sandwich. Is it getting the wallpaper

around you in the kitchen up at last

that makes cucumbers and white bread, the only

things you could find to eat, taste so good,

or is it the satisfaction of having discovered

a project that could carry the two of you

into this moment made for nobody else?

Either way, you’re here in the pleasure

of the tongue, which continues after

you’ve finished the sandwich, for now

you are savoring the talk alone – how

by staring at the band of florescent light

over the sink or the pattern you hadn’t

noticed in the wallpaper, you can see

where the sentence you’ve started, line

by line, should go. Only love could lead you

to think this way, or to care so little

about how you speak, you end up saying

what you care most about exactly right,

each small allusion growing larger

in the light of your friend’s eye.

And when the light itself grows larger,

it’s not the next day coming through the windows

of that redone kitchen, but you,

changed by your hunger for the words

you listen to and speak, their taste,

which you can never get enough of. – Wesley McNair

* * * * *

Wesley McNair’s new & selected poetry is titled Lovers of the Lost. His most recent book is The Lost Child: Ozark Poems, both published by David R. Godine.

Robert Gibbons’ Trilogy of prose poems, This Time, Traveling Companion, and To Know Others, Various & Free, is available from Nine Point Publishing.

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