Uche Nduka: What’s the place of the poet with regard to the larger culture?
John High: Same as anyone. The one washing clothes, the one ruling the nation, the one sweeping the street. Not really special and certainly nothing to gain, and no shame or blame either.
Norman got this on the money in his essay “Do You Want to Make Something Out of It? Zen Meditation and the Artistic Impulse” from his stunning lifetime of work in prose, Experience. He’s riffing off a poem of his old friend, Philip Whalen, when he writes:
For me this sense of making poetry or art as a heroic and grandiose undertaking whose cost and goal are everything sounds about right—providing you don’t get too excited about it, seeing it as anything more or less than any human being is doing, or would do, if he or she reflected for a few minutes about what is a worthwhile and reasonable way to spend a human life. So: (1) art isn’t just another job, its an endless exploration, and as with any exploration there are proliferating avenues of pursuit and no final successes, and (2) art is a necessity for humans, and we all need to find a way to participate in it.