Finding What Will Suffice

Apr 20, 2017

Wallace Stevens begins his poem “Of Modern Poetry” like this:

The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice.

He meditates on the nature of poetry and concludes:

It must
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.

I enjoy spending time with words carefully chosen -- words that seek to find “what will suffice.” It is an implicit recognition that language can only approach and never fully arrive at its destination.

Yeats declares, “talk to me of originality and I will turn upon you with rage,” reminding us that the poet must recognize what came before, resist complacency, and find “what will suffice.”

We Tweet and chat with Snaps. We update our status and Meme the world. However, we no longer read enough poetry – even though doing so could change the world. Although Auden reminds us that “poetry makes nothing happen …,” reading poetry does, as “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”

Li Young Lee writes of his father liking his mother’s hair pulled tight into a bun. But, searching for what will suffice, Lee observes:

But I know
it is because of the way
my mother’s hair falls
when he pulls the pins out.
Easily, like the curtains
when they untie them in the evening.

So do yourself a favor: Slow down, spend time with language, pick up a collection of poetry, and find what will suffice.

I am Michael Perry, and that’s my perspective.