Sometimes I think the simple answer to a question comes from figuring out where the question comes from. And in attempting to figure out where this question comes from, I found myself wondering ... Why don't we hear this same question for other things? So tell me, as a surgeon, why do you perform surgeries? Why do lawyers practice law? Why do firefighters put out fires? I mean, what's the point of that? Nobody asks a psychiatrist, "Psychiatry, huh? What do you plan to do with that?" Maybe it's because nobody questions why people who do these clearly important jobs actually do them.
Aha! And now, maybe, I've stumbled upon something. These are the clearly important jobs. Poetry? Not so clearly important. Except, maybe, to those who practice it. Kind of like your garbage man. You sit in your home on garbage pickup day and think, Man, why would anybody take that job? But outside? Outside, your garbage man (or woman) is thinking, Man, I dare this schmuck to last a week without me. And no, I'm not comparing poetry to garbage, smarty-pants (though the saying applies, perhaps, that one person's trash is another person's treasure ... and apparently, as I've seen trending among several fellow fantastic poets, our work these days is little more than fodder for the Go Green recycling movement). But I dare you to go a week without me. Poetry, that is. Go ahead ... give up poetry. Give up verse. Dear Christians, give up your psalms and proverbs. Dear audiophiles, give up your mp3s and CDs. Hey lawyers? Stop stealing from us.
But then, poetry sometimes falls into the same category as sports. Poetry is to lawyering as baseball is to neurosurgery. Highly skilled, but ... not quite at the same level somehow. Then again, nobody asks Derek Jeter or Chase Utley why they pick up bats and swing. (People did ask Michael Jordan, but come on ... dude didn't need to go there.) Nobody says, "Hey, Kobe, go get a real job!" So why should poetry be any different? It's my skill, and I've been training, and now I want to go out and dribble my pen all over the world. Why? Why not? Why do you care? Why shouldn't I? Just let me play, yo!
Why can every athlete in the world get away with saying, "I just gotta be me, nawmean?" but I can't? Why can every doctor say, "It's just ... my calling, you know?" and, yes, everybody knows it, but I say it and I get nothing but, "Yeah, but ... why?" in response? Why?
So, let me put it in terms the world seems more apt to understand. I write poetry because lawyers can be lawyers and doctors can be doctors and Lebron James gets to be Lebron James and Charlie Sheen is still winning. I write poetry because Cee-Lo gets to sing "Forget You" internationally and everybody else gets to know that's not the real line but, hey, it's art, so let him. I write poetry because Snooki can make it to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list and the world doesn't implode like it should. I write poetry because Arnold Schwarzenegger got to be governor of California and when Donald Trump said he might be running for president there wasn't mass hysteria but instead folks shrugging and saying, "Sure, why not?" I write poetry because Mario Puzo wrote an awful book that became an awesome movie and suddenly the book is great. I write poetry because cats are on YouTube. I write poetry because CSI is still on TV and people are still watching. I write poetry because LOST lasted six seasons without answering any of our questions and 24 lasted eight seasons without a single bathroom break and you and I and billions of other people ate it up like chocolate cake at a five year old's birthday party.
... That's why.