Friday, May 08, 2009

The Story of a Poem

Mexican poet Octavio Paz, once said the following:
In general, Americans have not looked for Mexico in Mexico; they have looked for their obsessions, enthusiasms, phobias, hopes, interests--and these are what they have found.
In 1998, just after Paz died, I wrote a poem called "Looking for Mexico," using that quote as my epigraph. My poem began,
To honor your life, Octavio Paz,
I will no longer look for myself
in your country.
And my poem ended,
In my domestic dreams I'll discover
the rattle of Pancho Villa's
bandoleros, the sleepy strumming
of a guitar behind an adobe wall,
the whisper of distant sands
in Cuernevaca, Morelia,
Oaxaca, Guadalahara.
I've always thought it was a pretty good poem, but over the ten years I've been sending it out, hoping for publication, 24 magazines have rejected it. Finally today I received notice that at last a nice little magazine has taken it. I was about to give up on it; poets must have tough skins, but 25 rejections is about my limit. I am delighted that the orphan has found a permanent home. Now it can rest in Paz. The poem has, after a lot of wandering, located its best reader, and that's all any poet, including Octavio Paz, can ask for.
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This is the season of the commencement speech. An excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver's 2008 speech at Duke:
Wisdom is like frequent-flyer miles and scar tissue; if it does accumulate, that happens by accident while you’re trying to do something else. And wisdom is what people will start wanting from you, after your last exam. I know it’s true for writers -– when people love a book, whatever they say about it, what they really mean is: it was wise. It helped explain their pickle. My favorites are the canny old codgers: Neruda, Garcia Marquez, Doris Lessing. Honestly, it is harrowing for me to try to teach 20-year-old students, who earnestly want to improve their writing. The best I can think to tell them is: Quit smoking, and observe posted speed limits. This will improve your odds of getting old enough to be wise.
The late David Foster Wallace's 2008 commencement speech at Kenyon

Conan O’Brien’s 2000 Commencement Speech at Harvard

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