Poetry shares, then, with myth and fable the strategy of building story around human experience, as a means of explaining that experience, or attempting to, and as a means of (sometimes) offering instruction regarding that experience. Also shared is a motivation. The reason I began writing—and continue to write—springs from a desire to understand in my own terms what is insufficiently understandable in the terms made available to me. But a shared strategy and motivation will not make myth out of poetry. Myth and fable are distinguishable by their applicability across time and cultural differences. When poetry has this quality, it is called—or I call it—resonant. This resonance gives poetry the valence and stamina of myth, at which point it can fairly be called great poetry. Some poetry takes on the mythic subject—love, death, loss, fear—but grounds that subject in such specifically autobiographical detail that we learn little more from reading the poem than that poet X has had such-and-such experience. The poem then has more the qualities of the journal or diary, its effect may be more cathartic than instructive (both for reader and wirter), more therapy than education, more history than myth, less resonant than reportorial. Which is not for a moment to say that such writing is not poetry, of which there are many different orders.
13 June 2005
Time for Carl Phillips
From Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry, an essay titled "Myth and Fable: Their Place in Poetry":