It’s not your fault that you didn’t like it. It’s the poems’ fault. And the poet’s. The poems were bad, and he shouldn’t have read them. Here’s why: every time you give a talk or teach a class or play a guitar in public or stage a play, there are always going to be several different kinds of people in your audience, and if it’s a poetry reading, there will be young people who have never heard poetry read aloud and are there only because their teacher has made attendance a course requirement, which makes this your chance to pull them like fish out of the gray lake they’ve been swimming in and release them into a sunlit sea. There’ll be people who’ve been to hundreds of readings, their eyes in a fine frenzy rolling from stage to audience, audience to stage, but also someone who may hear poetry for the last time tonight, an older person or a young fit one who is about to have an aneurysm explode like a bomb in her brain or, most likely of all, someone much like you or me driving home when the reading’s over and coming to a two-way stop, only the other driver doesn’t. Or there’s someone who’s troubled, who feels as though life isn’t worth living, a man whose woman has left him or a woman whose child has died: it seemed okay when it was born, and then it died, and its mother joined the countless women to whom the same thing has happened, who knew what had happened yet couldn’t keep from telling themselves that it hadn’t, the way Mary Shelley did when she gave birth to a baby girl, and after the child dies, Mary writes in her journal, "Dream that my little baby came to life again—that it had only been cold & that we rubbed it before the fire & it lived." Say there’s a woman in your audience tonight who has had that same experience. Are you going to read her a poem about a shadow that chases another shadow through an interior monologue, though no one knows whether the second shadow is the same as the first or another shadow altogether, and it all takes place under ice? No, you’re not, no more than you’d read a poem that says man that is born of woman is of few days, that there’s no such thing as death, that the babies are all in heaven, that their mommies will see them again some day. Instead, you’re going to read something that is, I don’t know, earthy, almost primitive, a poem that comforts precisely because it’s not trying to, one that focuses on the moment yet glances at everything that surrounds it, perhaps a funny poem with a dark heart or a sad one that provokes belly-shaking laughter or a poem that tells a wonderful story even though it contains chewy little nuggets that are indifferent, even hostile to story. You’re going to write an elemental poem, one that has three dimensions: you can try for more, as some people do, but you’ll probably end up with none. And after you’ve written that poem, you’re going to try it out on somebody, and they’re going to like it, because you have written the poem that has the power to comfort that grieving mother, console the lonely, give the hopeless hope. And you can read that poem tonight. Or you can read a bad poem, or more than one. What will you do?