on a hill near home
a hill of burnt grass the salt
wind off the ocean
more home than my house
behind the hill I go there
to begin again
the wind in the pines
my father planted the house
his retreat my point
of departure now
the wind off the Pacific
endows the late hour
Desire is endless. Summer clouds
can’t hide the sun. It moves beyond
them radiantly. And endless desire
in the blink of an eye knows its end.
We live between the ultimates — between birth and death, between utter joy and utter despair, between immanent perfection and hopeless alienation. So we should not be shocked by extremists who want it all right now. Poetry, as a medium of experience, exhibits the role of finesse in understanding and acting on our desires. Figures of speech like metaphor embody poetic finesse. They need to be taught as finesse between extremes unless they too become hardened into false certainties.
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
Having fun this morning doing rewrites of a bit of doggerel I posted on Twitter last night. It’s the Argument for my newly-designed blog poemswithoutborders.com
The blog is devoted to exploring the phenomenon of “freedom” in poetry, how a poem represents moments of acute penetration of a set of circumstances by principles drawn from literary tradition. Poetics as a branch of ethics; the workings of prudence in the mishmash of contingency that constitutes the world as such. In this sense the old notion of equity is paramount in poetics. I first learned about this from that grand old Stanford scholar Wesley Trimpi. I had failed my Masters exam at Berkeley and took a year off for rebooting in Trimpi’s seminar. Couldn’t have done a better thing.
Anyway, here’s the latest incarnation of the epigraph for the new blog:
The poem’s healing art
Invades the ragged (bleeding?) heart
Breaks down the stupid whole
Of self and frees the soul.
The original tweeted early this morning was
The poem’s hearing art
Invades the human heart
Breaks open the closed whole
Of self and saves the soul.
This has a lot going for it: the rhythms of the final two lines are superior to those of the rewrite. There’s something to be said for the “natural” perhaps faux easiness of the first two lines as they lead into the crash of the last two.
The jury is out.
Part of the writing life is putting up with yourself when you should be writing but can’t. Tonight I read a little Jean Follain, a little Martyn Crucefix (Hurt). I thought a lot about the importance of relevant details– the contingent world– to any poem that manages to break the silence. The principle of relevance is the killer, otherwise you just have piles of this and that. Jean Follain was a master of discreet details: his poems so arrange them that to read his poem is to climb a little hill only to suddenly look out over a burning city or a hidden garden.
a dewy rose
in a shady corner
I wrote this today in homage to so many classic Japanese haiku with simple kigos like “summer morning.” The simplicity seemed right for the image. But the narrative is clear to me: the rose, still wet with dew, has so far — it’s still early — been protected from the heat of the sun. It’s in a shady corner of the garden. Later the dew will dry and the sun will search it out, as it were. I felt this way myself this morning: I could feel the summer coming on. Yes, I identified with the rose but not so much with the rose-thing as with the process, from cool morning to something quite other. The movement is the thing.