It’s been hard to write lately. My muse is social distancing. But tonight I was writing in my journal, about the essential unreality of the plague, and this poem came to mind.
Should the Wide World Roll Away
Should the wide world roll away
Leaving black terror
Nor God, nor man, nor place to stand
Would be to me essential
If thou and thy white arms were there
And the fall to doom a long way.
— Stephen Crane
I’m reading this month’s (May) edition of Poetry magazine and commend this poem to you.
BY GERARD MALANGA (link to more about this poet.)
No greetings on the street. No emails. What I’ve done the day before.
I just heard this very good poem on a podcast. This poet is digging, very effectively, into his Portland OR neighborhood.
I am a poet. When I forget that, I wander off into thickets of entropy. I think about poetry, often and a lot, and I think maybe you should not read it. I mean you should do something else with it. Because reading poetry can lead to thickets of attempted comprehension, and poetry isn’t about comprehension. Poetry isn’t just about top to bottom, left to right. Metaphor is not the same as enigma or secret code. It’s certainly not about that Robert Caro quote perhaps you know, “The only thing that matters is on the page.” That’s true, but it means something else.
The essential thing that makes poetry work, if and when it does, is not on the page at all. It’s in the reader’s mind. It’s waiting in the mind for a poem to appear, or a phrase of music, or a smell of food cooking, or a moment’s image of people from a car window. It’s not an understanding, it’s a recognition, a resonance. It is at best a meeting of minds across time and space.
“I think there is a general misconception that you write poems because you “have something to say.” I think, actually, that you write poems because you have something echoing around in the bone-dome of your skull that you cannot say. Poetry allows us to hold many related tangential notions in very close orbit around each other at the same time. The “unsayable” thing at the center of the poem becomes visible to the poet and reader in the same way that dark matter becomes visible to the astrophysicist. You can’t see it, but by measure of its effect on the visible, it can become so precise a silhouette you can almost know it.”– Rebecca Lindenberg
So I suggest do you not read poetry. Listen to it. Pick it up and hold it like something that belonged to someone you love, or something they made for you, and run your hand over it. If you can’t do that, swallow it hole and let it swim around inside you like a fish.
Whatever you do, never ask a poet what a poem means. It means the taste of that cake your mother made for your birthday. It means the cold fog rolling in.
is changing, has changed. It’s a good thing, a beautiful thing.
I’m not a young dude. I’ve been trying to write poetry since 1980. My school is Eliot, Pound, Frost, Bly, Stafford, Kinnell, Strand, Collins, Roethke, Olds, Oliver … so when I began to hear spoken words forms that sound a little – to me – like somebody rappin’, I resisted. I was wrong. Poetry is change, like any art. Art lives by changing. And it’s all good.
There’ no debate it’s not too late and if I hesitate then I reiterate:
Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.
– Adrienne Rich
I’ve just read, and herewith recommend, this interview by McSweeny’s of the poet Rebecca Lindenberg. Asked, “why write poetry?” she answers:
I think there is a general misconception that you write poems because you “have something to say.” I think, actually, that you write poems because you have something echoing around in the bone-dome of your skull that you cannot say. Poetry allows us to hold many related tangential notions in very close orbit around each other at the same time. The “unsayable” thing at the center of the poem becomes visible to the poet and reader in the same way that dark matter becomes visible to the astrophysicist. You can’t see it, but by measure of its effect on the visible, it can become so precise a silhouette you can almost know it.
It’s hard to find the moments
that I need, when the clouds
settle down and are quiet,
when the wind is the right
shade of blue, when all
of the people float over looking
like dogs or butterflies,
underbellies of rain.
Now you weep and I despise
myself, beyond atonement,
culpable for the starlight,
pushed to the brink
with the falling leaves.
J. Kyle Kimberlin
Work in process, probably.
Poetry is the art of saying the unsayable, that which can only be said in a kind of music, which can be said in no other way.
I have always felt, very strongly, that all art should be allowed to speak for itself. Maybe that’s most essentially true of poetry.
Res ipsa loquitur.
Our lives are a mystery to us. So much happens at the level of shadow and heartbeat, of spirit, breath and reflection.
If you ask a poet, “what does it mean?” you’re asking for the unspeakable to be spoken, for a song without music, for a kind of life demeaned and stripped of art. If it could be said the way you want it explained, it wouldn’t be poetry in the first place. You’re asking him to take that work out of its context and put it in yours.
Read it again. Read it at sunrise or in the bathtub. Read it while rain pounds on the house. Read it with one eye open or with a mouth full of feathers and wine. Read it over and over until it gets through to you. Or give up. Move on and try again when you’re older. When you can hear the clock more clearly ticking, maybe it’s time.
His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,
His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance.
– Robert Francis
I have been wanting to share this poem with someone for at least a week, and I can’t stand it anymore.
Want to see it in Spanish and English? Here.