I don't know what I can write or if I will be able to ever write again before I die. Many poets
are quelled by old age, I think many or perhaps even most poets do slow down or cease in
their 8th decade, which is where I am—
Philip Larkin couldn't write any in
his last years. Old age dries one up, you don't see many poets my age
(72) or older publishing new books. The body wears out, the mind
loses its sharpness.
The willpower that sustained me even 2 or 3 years
ago is diminishing with every day it seems.
The artwork I'm trying to do is a substitute effort to
stay in a creative mode, and hopefully that urge will yield some verse, but I just
don't feel the force that propelled me in the past to wake up every
morning and go to my typescripts and notebooks and from those drafts work up lines and
stanzas. The stamina is not there anymore, nor the desire.
(And why write poems whose reception will inevitably be this:
and this: http://knottprosepo.blogspot.com/2012/03/critany.html
Probably successful poets are more immune to these inertias of old age—
C.K. Williams has an interesting essay entitled "On Being Old" in the current American Poetry Review about his similar situation of being an aged poet, and about how good he is at coping with it:
but he doesn't mention the one thing which I think is most relevant in his case, the one impetus which eases and facilitates his ongoing career, and which endows him with the strength and the confidence to keep writing, to continue practicing his art: surely that unique privileging factor is his spectacular success as a poet—
I quote verbatim the bio note below his essay:
"C.K. Williams has published many books of poetry, including Repair, which was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize; The Singing, which won the National Book Award for 2003; and Flesh and Blood, the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Prize in 1987. He has also been awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the PEN Voelker Career Achievement Award in Poetry for 1998, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEA grants, the Berlin Prize of the American Academy in Berlin, a Lila Wallace Fellowship, and prizes from PEN and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and is currently a chancellor of the American Academy of Poets."
I envy Williams his success, which I think is the ameliorating mitigation that most enables him to persist as a valued poet with important work still to contribute,
in contrast to me and other lesser talents contemporaneous to him in years.
And of course I wish the poetry I wrote over the past half century had been good enough to merit the honors his work has—
but it wasn't, it isn't. I wish that final outcome weren't so, but—
The verdict is in. The poets of my generation have been evaluated and ranked. Williams is in the top tier, and I—
well, I'm somewhere further down.
(Trying to estimate the exact level of mediocrity on which my poetry has been shelved is a waste of time because in the long run, historically, only the uppermost poets remain in name: all of us below-fellows are soon forgotten, gone, goodbye.)