Michael Gottlieb / Letters to a Middle-Aged Poet / 21


Is it inevitable that as we get older we grow more conservative, more cautious, more censorious, less open-minded, less, simply, flexible? Less receptive… as a matter of course, by virtue of, or according to some ineluctable, iron-clad law, some dismal code to which we are all subject?

Cannot we not, must we not, look at our lives, at our careers, and say: yes, this is what I was doing in my twenties and while it may surely have been more uncompromising than anything I have done since, there is a clear and compelling link or, if you will, a transition from that work to what I did in my thirties, and so, as I look back, I want to say that I see a similarly compelling and impelling force which moved me into my forties, and, again, further along, then urged me through my forties, and from my forties to my fifties… and so on. It all made, and makes sense? Or does it? This is the track, the arc, the trace of my, of one’s, career – to the extent of course, that any poet can claim that she or he has a career. Right?

Nevertheless, when looking back, and unfortunately an increasing amount of looking, lately, seems, unavoidably, to be looking back, it doesn’t it seem, at least for our generation, that the most radical work that we did was indeed work done in our youth… And what, assuming that is so, the question insists on being asked, what does that mean for us, as we age?

Is the carefully constructed, so artfully built-up argument that this life of writing is one of, as they say, life-long learning, is that proposition – the one that argues that the accretion of our experience, of our incrementally bulked-up skill sets – we have so much more to bring to bear, to exercise as we continue on year after year – is that all just one big lie?

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