The Poem, The Poet, and Poetry

by | Nov 20, 2022

“I think of the poem, the poet, and poetry itself as separate entities.”
-Terrance Hayes, “The Art of Poetry,” The Paris Review, fall, 2022

Writing poetry is a solitary act. I welcome the time alone to dream, to write, to get words on paper (and on the screen) and play with them. I welcome the solitude that allows me to write uninterrupted. That’s why writing retreats are so vital to my creative process.

But, just as writing retreats usually involve being in community with other people, I also need other poets, other writers. The poet may be solitary, the poem may never leave the poet, but poetry is communal – that big umbrella that includes friendship, mentorship, and community. Even the most solitary introvert occasionally needs the company of other human beings. Much as I dislike being interrupted when I am writing (hairballs and laundry are real at my house), there are days I’ll answer a spam call just to hear another human voice. In truth, this usually occurs when I’m feeling “stuck” with the writing.

My love of poetry is something I want to share. When I learn something new about the craft or discover a poet new to me, I want to share it with others. Until two years ago, I shared what I learned about poetry and poems through teaching classes and workshops and through working with individual poets. I always hoped that the students in my classes learned as much from me as I learned from them.

It was not the pandemic that brought my teaching to an end, but the need to focus more on my own work. I had turned 70-years-old and wanted to spend more time on my own writing. It was time. I finished my last poetry collection in 2020 and was fortunate that Main Street Rag published When There Horses in 2021.

Unlike previous book releases where I read to a room full of people at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, the 2021book release was virtual as were many of the first readings from the book. The pandemic lingered, threatening the lives and health of everyone. But, we found a way to be together through Zoom and I have had the pleasure of sharing the stage with poet and friend Paul Jones, whose book, Something Wonderful was published by Redhawk Press in 2021. We made a conscious choice to seek reading opportunities together and usually bring in another poet to also read. These readings build community. I’ve met some wonderful new people, poets and those who enjoy poets or just enjoy the company of one of the other poets I was reading with. The circle expands. I’m inspired by and interested in the stories of the people I meet at readings. I come away energized from the company. When I am reading my work in public, I become a poet. It’s a public persona, but still, hopefully, my authentic self.

But, I remain the introvert who goes home and seeks out long stretches of solitude when I can write. It’s a balancing act – I need the energy the world offers, the joy, the sorrow and the horror; and I need the time alone.

Then a few months ago a friend asked if I would teach a workshop and give a reading for the retirement community where she lives. I was surprised at how delighted I was to have the opportunity to teach, and share my work. I realized that I had been away from teaching just long enough to realize how much I get from preparing a workshop, selecting poems, and being with a room filled with others who also love poetry and are eager to learn more.

As we began talking about reading and responding to poems, someone asked what I meant when I talked about a poem’s emotional landscape. George Oppen’s wonderful poem “Psalm,” which I had included in the packet of poems, is one of the best I know to illustrate how the poem has an emotional landscape. The physical setting is obvious – a forest where deer are bedding down for the night. But these are no “Bambi” deer nor is the forest some fairy tale forest. We discussed the poem, its imagery, language, the feelings we get when we read and hear the words and the way they are put together. It’s a deceptively simple poem, with plain language and repetition. But I always find something new every time I read it.

The more we talked about the poem, the deeper the conversation became. Finally, one member of the class spoke up and said, “I hated this poem when I first read it – just another nature poem, I thought. But after this discussion, I really like it.” She began seeing it in a new way – and isn’t that what poets always want to do? What we want our poems to do? How we want to live in this community of poetry?

That we are here!

Here’s the poem we discussed – for your solitary or communal reading pleasure:

Veritas sequitur

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down—
That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

– George Oppen


  1. Bill Griffin

    “The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation.” the Dalai Lama
    Pat, your recount of a small group growing in shared appreciation and gratitude is an image of the promised land, the peaceable kingdom. It’s what we all desire and strive for, poet or not, knowing it or not.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      It was pure delight, epiphany and one of those times when I was most grateful to be doing what I do. The Dalai Lama nailed it. Thanks for your insights.

  2. Paul Jones

    There is such pleasure in reading Oppen here and to read with you around NC in person and on Zoom. Looking forward to more of Oppen and of reading with you in 2023.
    Thanks for your continued good works.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Paul, it has been an absolute joy reading with you this past year as we have taken our poetry one the road. In this season of gratitude, grateful for your friendship, your poetry. Here’s to more readings together in the coming year.

  3. Pat Riviere-Seel

    Thanks, Paul! Its’ been great reading with you, traveling around NC, both in person and via Zoom. NC has such a wonderful community of poets and writers.



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