“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.


Edited and compiled by Robert Sward

"What You Need to Know..."

by Margery Snyder

Poetry and personal relationships are irretrievably linked in my experience-- my life partner and consort of 17 years is a poet, or rather a "spoken word artist," and the making of poems and songs and monologues is very much present in our daily life together. But the myriad and deep complications of poetry embedded in a domestic relationship, a pair of writers as mates, are far beyond the scope of this series, so I'd like to tell the story of another of my particular friendships with poets.

Donna M. Lane and I met because one of my coworkers at my dreary day job was Dorothy, her domestic partner. At the time I was engaged in an effort to keep my "drudge" life at work separate from my "real" life outside the office as a poet and social being--but Dorothy said, "You're both writers, you should meet," and after about a year, we did. Our writing was the reason for our acquaintance and sharing the experiences of a writing life became the foundation of our friendship.

Poetry is the most personal of arts. Poets' friendships are both professional, when we publish each other or lend a critical eye to each other's work, and personal, because the poems, whether explicitly autobiographical or presumed fictive or even the most abstract of imaginary worlds, are so revealing of our private selves.

Sometimes the writerly nature of my friendship with Donna was evident in our private reading sessions, in which we read new poems or works in progress around the dinner table in an informal, friendly sort of workshop. We learned each other's voices in listening to these readings and soon could notice whenever there was an inflection in the reading not apparent on the page, or a seeming intention in the written poem not reflected in the spoken words. I could rely on Donna to identify an inauthentic or awkward line in one of my poems and she learned to trust me to point out the places where her intention slackened or got sidetracked--but we never crossed the line between this kind of informed response and actually editing each other's writing. Taking out the blue pencil would have transformed our relationship into one of work, and without speaking about it we chose to stay in the realm of friendship and limit our collaboration to intimate listening. These things--attentive understanding, honest reaction without malice, an educated appreciation of the other's talents--are the gifts poets can give to their poet-friends.

Other times the intertwining of poetry in our relationship was revealed in our tacit agreement NOT to talk about our own work or the poems of other poets we knew--simply to prepare a meal, or go for a walk, or play a game of Scrabble, or gossip and talk about nothing, giving our writer's minds a quiet interlude for invisible work. Poets need their friends most when they are not actually writing poems. It's a relief then to be with someone who is sensitive to your fear that inspiration will not return, a friend who will understand if you need to stop whatever you're doing and write something that has come to you, right now.

When we were both interested in seeing our poems published, we commiserated about the grinding submission process. I realized that Donna just couldn't tolerate the emotional ups and downs of acceptance and rejection and still keep her work in circulation. So I volunteered to take over the secretarial duties of submitting her work for a time, because I believed her poems were worthy of publication. She gave me a sheaf of poem copies and a roll of stamps, and I began sending her work out to the same publications where I was submitting mine. When her poems were returned with rejections, I simply turned around and submitted them somewhere else, saying nothing to her until I got an acceptance. Insulating her from the process of getting her poems published was a unique gift I could give to Donna. Other poet-friends would never have consented to surrender their poems to my postal ministrations, nor would I want someone else to do this for me--but it's an emblem of poet-friendship.

The closest conjunction of our poetry and our friendship came in this, the poem I wrote for Donna in 1992. It's quite personal, based on the facts of our shared experience, but it's also an invocation addressed to all the poets I know:


at the time she was diagnosed
with malignant breast cancer

You are a bundle of clarity
Bathed in noise, radio
Static scrambling your genes,
Rushing of wheels across the earth,
Distant engines, the cricket sounds
Of computers and telephones,
Needles in the grass.

Your poet-voice comes across a room
Low and unflinching, unadorned
But true, like the line
Of a well-thrown knife to its target,
While all around you sound
The harmonics and interferences
Of your disease and its keepers.

Scourge of our species
In this century, we grow too full,
Too flamboyant, too many bits
Of information, too many traps,
Too many micrograms of corruption-
Were this the 15th century we'd be
Dying in the purity of plague

Limbs falling away, paring down
Our selves like charcoal burned
Down to its carbon heart.
But we live here, and now,
In the modern baroque flowering
Of unintended consequences,
And our disease is decadence.

You must tease the true thread
Out of the tangle,
Sound your clear voice
In the cacophonous world-
There will be no hush, no pause-
You can only inhale, inspire yourself,
And then breathe out a song.

Appeared in GREEN FUSE (Santa Rosa), No. 24, Spring 1997 Collected in THE GODS, THEIR FEATHERS (San Francisco: Blue Beetle Press, 1992)
Article 2001 Margery Snyder
Poem 1992 Margery Snyder


Margery Snyder is a poet, flute-player and accidental photographer who pronounces her first name with a hard 'g'. She was born in Washtucna, Washington, a small town amid the dry wheatlands in the downwind shadow of the Hanford Atomic Reservation, grew up in southern California, studied literature in Santa Barbara, Boston and Chicago, and began to write and perform poetry only after she settled in San Francisco in 1985. She is the author of LOVING ARGUMENT (Viridiana: SF, 1991), THE GODS, THEIR FEATHERS (Blue Beetle Press: SF, 1993), THE SECRET HUMMING (Mel Thompson Publishing: SF, 1994), and EARTHLY MAGIC (Deep Forest Press: SF, 2001) and works on the Internet as Poetry Guide at About (http://poetry.about.com/), in partnership with Bob Holman of UNITED STATES OF POETRY fame.

Her work lives on the Net at PERIHELION (http://www.webdelsol.com/Perihelion/snyderpoetry.htm), THE ASTROPHYSICIST'S TANGO PARTNER SPEAKS (http://www.heelstone.com/margery.htm, where three of her poems are paired with photographs by Michael Monteleone), and in BEEHIVE's New York/San Francisco collection (http://beehive.temporalimage.com/archive/23arc.html).

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