Poems mark occasions. The first occasion each poem marks is its inspiration. At a certain moment on a certain day a person was moved to write a poem. What moved the person-a dream, a thought, a memory, a word, a story, the sight of a dog or car or photograph or plate of spaghetti, another poem-may be subsumed in the course of refining the poem. It is, after all, not

uncommon for a poet to put a poem through dozens of drafts. It is also not uncommon for the impulse behind the poem to move in unforeseen directions: An aunt may wind up living in Houston rather than Cleveland, a Buick may become a Mazda. It all depends on what’s happening with the direction of the poem as it exists on paper. Still, the poem testifies to its inception. Without that evanescent spark there is no poem. It is a truism that a poem cannot be willed. (1)

Although inspiration always represents a personal occasion, poems mark a myriad of social occasions. Among other things they praise, celebrate, lament, commemorate, narrate, instruct, elegize, satirize, complain, plead, exclaim, wish, take leave, regret, grieve, commiserate, confess, meditate, pray, and protest. These verbs mirror events. Over the years we have learned that to the question, “Have you ever written a poem?” most people respond in the affirmative, perhaps bashfully but nonetheless acknowledging their authorship. Typically, this writing stems from a desire to celebrate or commemorate or mourn another person. It is writing that comes from an occasion-a death, a birthday, an anniversary-and the writer has a powerful feeling that only a poem will do that sort of job, that only a poem speaks essentially to the spirit, not in a hocus-pocus way, but directly, without embarrassment. The accurate, vibrant, and unsentimental expression of feeling is literally priceless because it has nothing to do with money values that dominate so many of our exchanges. A poem is unique; there are no mass-produced poems. A greeting card saves time and has an understandable social function, but it is no equivalent to a poem one person writes for another person.