The Poetry Center of Chicago hosted a reading by poet Li-Young Lee last night. He read for a majority of the hour-long event, evoking such image as "wings and the shadow of wings". It was his 15-min "interview", taped and recorded for radio broadcast, that was most enjoyable. The interviewer introduced Lee as "someone who lives and works as a poet-- his vocation is 'poet'; he is a teacher and writer..." Lee did not directly respond to this intro; I'm not sure if he even considers himself only a poet--or a poet in this restrictive sense--when talking about "what he does for a living". Indeed, I can't count the number of times someone follows up with the phrase "what do you do with that here?" after asking what I studied in Montana. Lee's on my side on this one.
Lee then explained the spiritual, and specifically yogic, functions of poetry writing. He mentioned lyric poetry as confronting the causal nature of the universe (and by "universe", I suppose I mean the totality of human interaction with time/death, etc.) and bringing a "unified psyche" to bare on language, in order to create a world view of synchronicity.
That is, lyric poetry refuses to acknowledge that the world is ruled by only cause and effect. Instead, the poet sees and attempts to describe one thing that happens to be "in sync" with the other thing. The poet describes parallels; and then implores the reader to seek out the connection there by means other than logical cause and effect. This, Lee reminds us, is a transcendent and meaningful experience.