O'Donnell: What Do Poets Do All Day?

One of my favorite pictures of the girls barely has them in
it. Instead their stick-like summer shorts legs are poking out from beneath
Richard Scarry’s giant informative picture book “What Do People Do All Day.”
They appear rapt, swallowed by the gripping narrative, the realistic peek into
a world where all the fully-clothed animals of Busytown stay busy, smiling,
working and getting an unusually high percentage of flat tires.

It’s a world where a fox named “Mr. Fix-It” shows up to
screw up everything in your house any time you contract his services. It’s a
world just like ours.

I love the picture of the girls because I love the book so
much. I love the book because I don’t feel left out. Among the salesmen, street
cleaners, electricians, laundresses, delivery boys, models, detectives, and
watch repairmen, there is a poet. She’s there on the title page. In the attic
of the creative. In the garret of course, the very highest part of the attic,
above the violin player, the story writer, and the painter.
She’s staring out the leaded-glass window poetically,
holding the quill to her fuzzy cat chin, thinking. That’s what poets do all
day. They think. They think about images and sound and line breaks and form.
It’s a hard job.
Notice the quill isn’t touching the paper. In this
illustration, significantly, the poet isn’t actually writing a poem. She’s
looking up into the sky just beside the title. She’s not even looking at
Richard Scarry’s name. There are no words, just white space.
The blank page can be scary. It takes a lot of concentration
to confront it.
I do wonder what the poet is thinking. I imagine it’s about
the story writer and his loud typewriter, its constant clicking a narrative
taunt, reminding her of empty pages before her. Or perhaps she’s perseverating
on that damn violinist just downstairs. The one who doesn’t only practice all
day, but leans out the open window while he practices.
Maybe she’ll write a poem about him.
I hope my daughters noticed the typewriter and the violin. I
hope, as they considered the hundreds of professions Mr. Scarry chose to
portray, they realized that the poet, trying to write in her garret, could hear
all of that. Every sound. Because if a poet can hear a violin and a typewriter,
a poet can certainly hear a screaming fight over who has to wear the flip-flops
that the dog peed on.
Maybe she’ll write a poem about that.
I don’t have a fuzzy cat chin, a quill, and I rarely have a
thoughtful smile, but I am a poet. I can attest to this truth—this is exactly
what poets do all day.
Nicole Stellon

lives, writes, and teaches in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her novel-in-poems,
Steam Laundry, was
published in January 2012 by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. Her work
has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, Dogwood, The Women’s
Review of Books and other literary journals. This month, her column, SubarcticMama, will begin running at Literary Mama.

2 thoughts on “O'Donnell: What Do Poets Do All Day?”

  1. I'll take a little validation from Richard Scarry! Nice post Nicole. I've enjoyed all of yours this month.

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