There is a magic to poetry; it cannot be all puzzle boxes and puns. The big-browed scholar of Finnegan’s Wake must finally be frustrated. And, as important, the child in Joyce’s choices, and the kid in ourselves, must feel like we are genuinely playing. Billy’s roar behind the bushes must be the Snark’s flabbergasting cry. The bread and wine must be the blood and body. Let all the magic happen, or no poetry really is.
Poetry explores the world without and the door within. It raises the hackles on the beast in your soul, and sends you out with the naturalist’s net and bottle to catalog the thousand mysteries of the backyard. Objective experience, and the subjective registering of that experience, and the transformed re-voicing of craftily chosen, artfully deployed, mosaic bits of that experience is a process common to all art. We discern subtle connections (Eliot’s “objective correlative” perhaps) by walking this worn path with fresh eyes; connections assert themselves in our flesh and consciousness, connections hang from the flowering tree like butterflies.
These connections, discerned, touched and exploited in creative expression, are never fully understood. They are not a blueprint, a thesis, or a theorem. But, they are closer to our living consciousness and our daring dreaming sleep, than any other sort of ordering that humans do. They participate in the gift of inspiration, and play in the new fields discovered there. One reason they remain so open is because of the interrelated nature of imagination and invitation.
Imagination fluoresces at borders. Like auras or fronds, its edges are fuzzy. The inspiration that leads (or is followed to) a new invention or a new formulation of scientific principle is different from poetry only in degree. In many ways, Dante even followed poetic inspiration far down this path–but his material was religion, the divine, which is essentially poetic in its ability to seek expression (as distinct from science, which seeks manifestation and demonstration); making the invisible world visible is an endless search for correspondences. Poetry stays in the tidal pools of an ocean of possibilities; it opens the door. This is how it maintains a true connection with the human on-looker, with human desire, with the all-too-apparent limited nature of our existences. Even Dante was not his own guide; his great poem needed Virgil’s invitation so that we could experience Dante’s wonder and awe as God’s design was increasingly revealed canto by canto, Purgatorio to Paradiso.
The more stretched we are, the more connected we feel; that is one secret. The stretch increases contact in both directions–through the door of the self, and out into wider experience. Whitman stretches with his lists and variation–his emphatic empathy declaring that “thou art that.” Tat tvam tasi. Emily Dickinson stretched by the wild length of her rocket flares–making one thread of image encompass the earth and on into the afterlife, yet still be pulled from her own worn, homely shawl; the robin was her auditor, the buttercup her confessor. My own, more formal (and more manic), declaration of this principle might be: “Oceans in acorns my strumming mermaids are.”
Every break of a line is a border; every rhyme is a border; every deliberate ambiguity. And poetry, like the noble intestine, like the manifold folds of the brain, maximizes the numbers and unencumbered extent of those borders–so that the subjective feeling of crossing borders, of inspiration, is maximized. The monsters in the mist must be real; the saints must be accessible to our human appeals.
Gregg Glory May 20, 2014
A DISCARDED LYRE
Below a T'ang moon hanging, On double dragon smoke I take fleet flight to Wales
To the tut-tutters among my myriad readers, I say–yes, there’s a bit too much strutting, too many bones, too many graves yawning gravely in the poems here. Luminous moons number in the millions, and ghosts gather at the dinner table in a feast more featly attended than Banquo’s banquet. But, so what? There are whole necropoleis of vampire literature illuminated from where Stoker’s lightning struck. I much prefer the “rage for order” and the orderly rage of accreting the viable language of our day–rather than continuing to execute in blind rote the wilding attacks after “the new” that distorted so much of the early modernists’ efforts. As Browning puts it in the underrated Balaustion’s Adventure (which is itself an example of historical imagination, and the value of transmitting (via memorization) the words and virtue-values of earlier artists), where Sophokles is described as contemplating re-telling the story of Admetos and his wife Alcestis, which subject had been famously treated by Euripides in his play Alcestis,
They say, my poet failed to get the prize : Sophokles got the prize,--great name! They say, Sophokles also means to make a piece. Model a new Admetos, a new wife : Success to him! One thing has many sides. The great name! But no good supplants a good, Nor beauty undoes beauty.
Here we see an instance of editing to improvement rather than dismembering to impairment. “No beauty undoes beauty.” Have humans changed in 20K years? Not much. The “farmshed’s [still] full of wisdom.” The latest diet fad has its adherents eating as all people did back in the paleolithic era. Perhaps I’ll have to eat my words, but at least my words carry the old nutritional value they had when we sang in caves, hopping in firelit gratitude around a broken bear’s skull.
Gregg Glory May 5, 2014