A Second Wind

The haiku seems fit for the use I have in mind. A sort of catalogue of moments of presence here in this new place, the Pacific  North West. I have come to this region after many years on the East Coast, where I was closer to Europe than Asia, and yet my last series of poems, written in Portsmouth New Hampshire, was based on ancient Chinese poems and their Zenist orientation. So now I am at the Western end of the continent and exploring it through haiku. American landscapes have always been metaphysical places, starting with the Native Americans, then the Puritans, then the Romantics with their sense of apocalypse. This eschatological sense of place has political aspects, especially with Evangelical Christians. White Nationalists camp in Eastern Oregon.  Oregon is historically the end of the way West. Eschatology and apocalypse mix with rather dramatic rivers and mountains, so I may get a second wind of the energies flowing through the pond songs. The complex psychology of certain schools of Zen seem almost native to the place thanks to Gary Snyder and respond strongly to the disfiguring of the landscape by apocalyptic schemes.  Czeslaw Milosz with his profound engagement in European religious ideas was certainly affected by these facets of the local reality.  Potent stuff.


Between immanence

and divine transcendence this

day of cool bright mist

New Project: Poems and Freedom

Having retooled an old website, I’m now preoccupied with writing for http://dailymetaxy.com under the title poemaspassport

Please pay it a visit and subscribe if you like. 

The concept is that poems “travel” well — and the difficulty of this notion is that to understand a poem is to understand it as representative of a thick particularity or set of contingencies. A poem is a parochial artifact. But the games poems play with words are real: they connect communities of language users to each other in multifarious ways. Poems use all sorts of means to transcend the fictions of univocal meaning: metaphor, rhyme, all sorts of echoings of intertextuality.  But by “seeing through” the language games AS games — perhaps this is one way to put it — poems travel lightly across communities. Poems are “transcultural.”

And the analogy with doctors-without-borders is that poems liberate their readers from their own cultural limitations. Poems have a healing power that suggests something other to fixed identities. The limiting functions of words, their power to specify what we mean,  which make everyday life possible, would not be comprehendible without countervailing freedoms — of conscience, of expression, of self-consciousness. Language is dialectical; it abounds with significant others.

Reading poetry closely builds a model identity that connects one with ethical others and ultimately with the Other as transcendent creator. That is: the creator whose existence is suggested by the fact that there is a creation to talk about. The logic of the distinction between creator and creation is crucial to the concept of poemswithoutborders.com

Or put it this way: The verbal play at the root of poetry suggests a primal energy, an original creative energy. The Taoist poets of China understood the Tao as the unnamable source of the 10,000 things; they experienced openings of “the fertile void” as source of “being happenings” to which their poetry referred, either by imagery or by its absence. In the West, a cross-cultural study of the idea of creation such as David Burrell’s Freedom and Creation in Three Traditions (Notre Dame 1993) makes explicit the sources of the idea of free creation in the faith traditions sharing Abraham as symbolic root. This kind of reading is not for everyone, but the cultural life made possible by it is, it seems to me, the “good life” if that phrase is to have any meaning.

So, in a nutshell, I’m exploring the idea of “poetry” as a primal energy which a poem taps into — to be crude. The “primal” aspect is what is universal and travels so well. Poetry is notoriously untranslatable, and yet what is reading but translating, with whatever faithfulness to the original we can bear.

The practical implications of this “theory” in the practice of a poet is explored in the essay on Denise Riley at http://dailymetaxy.com





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