What Authorship Is Like
Let us note here for the record
the death-of-the-author authors
put their names on the writings they
author. Authorship is like that:
“I find letters from God dropt in
the street, and every one is sign’d
by God’s name.” So wrote Walt Whitman,
who put his name inside his song,
lodged his portrait as a working
man on his volume’s frontispiece,
and said he would dissolve, but let
a cast of his right, writing, hand
by Truman Bartlett to be cast
for once and future time in bronze.
How Authors Work
Some write stuff down and try to understand
it later, some claim from the start they know
just where it ends and what it means, and some
take recourse to the schools of chance or cool
machinery. Some live off their advance
and never work at anything at all.
With varying results I’ve steered my craft
through straits and bays and open waters of
the art and tried to heed what’s on the charts
but found that waves and swells and tides and winds
have more to say than I could ever get
in writing, which just makes me one of those
whose authorship defers to sun and moon
and gravity but owns a swatch of sky.
What Authorship Is
Don’t ask the authors. They would be the last
to know. You’d do as well to ask a cow
how it gives milk, said Pete De Vries. So cast
your line in any other stream. Allow
for species, shadows, depth, and temperature,
and feel the tug and thrash of authorships
of every size and taste and hue that stir
beneath the surface. Wade up to your hips
if you’re equipped for stepping off the bank,
as one would hope you are. But quell the wish
to fry your catch in butter. Say your thank-
you, slip your hook out, and release the fish.
What authorship is is best left to swim
among the reeds and freshets and at whim.
Dan Campion is the author of A Playbill for Sunset (2022) and Peter De Vries and Surrealism (1995) and co-editor of Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song (1981, 2nd ed. 1998, 3rd ed. 2019). Dan’s poetry has appeared previously in Grand Little Things and in Able Muse, Light, Poetry, Rolling Stone, Think, and many other magazines. A selection of his poems titled The Mirror Test will be published by MadHat Press in 2022.