Horse and Writer

About 10 years ago, I fulfilled my great childhood wish to own a horse. Completely unversed in the care, maintenance, and riding of horses, I found the experience dirty, exhausting, and dangerous. During this time I was writing the poems that would become my first book, Talking Soft Dutch, and still considered myself a student trying to reach certain artistic goals. Many poets and acquaintances found my new horse endeavor intriguing, particularly as poetic materia. They got some poems from it, mostly of the kind to which I aspired: lofty, transcendent poems in which horse and rider are barely introduced before being swept off as metaphor in the service of higher and larger meaning. The language of these poems was itself extraordinary-stylized and oracular. Not only did I want to learn to ride and care for a horse, I wanted to use language to reach the same lofty and transcendent conclusions. After all, I was the one who was hurt and dirty.

I began to realize I was seeking my "voice" and "vision" in a style and spiritual perspective that was not my own. I struggled to write the poem I wanted, taking my materials into the dark place where I might be met by a power greater than myself, and was unable to will my poem into being. I was absolutely unable to fake a "Black Beauty" vision of myself and my horse.

Instead, I was wrestled to the ground by whatever it was that I met there. The resulting poem, "On Horseback," had the sure plumb of truth to it, and in my language, through my ordinary vision, which I had resisted using before.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1996
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