First, I have to say, I’m glad to be blogging again with some amount of regularity.
OK. Continuing on from yesterday’s post on book, surely we all do this because of our love for the book, for print, for poetry books in print. I am also thinking about the ongoing conversations in grad poetry workshop. I am loving the realizations my students are making as they go through this process of creating cohesive bodies of work. This is why I conduct workshop as I do, in order for emerging poets to come to recognize their poetics, and in order for their colleagues and peers to also come to recognize one another’s poetics, both of these more easily facilitated when handling larger bodies of work (versus individual poems spread out over time). How to recognize one’s own tendencies and instincts, and having come into that awareness and recognition, how to go about honing, clarifying, and building. How to proceed in a more informed manner.
This does not preclude beautiful poetic accidents and surprises. This is about clarifying a work ethic.
So this all sounds like it should be common sense, but outside of these specific classroom settings, I am still struck by the insistence upon what I will call a myth, that the poem and that poetry is pure mystery that eludes and transcends all explanation. That a poem can only be gazed upon with wonder and bewilderment, that any critical explanation strips away the beauty of the poem. That’s the myth.
Indeed, poetry does strike us in ways that are challenging to articulate, precisely because poetry appeals to our humanity and deep soul searching selves. This is a beautiful thing, and a major reason why I have chosen poetry as my vocation and vehicle. “First, a poem must be magical,” wrote Jose Garcia Villa, and I know that poetry, poetic lines, phrases, fragments, images, stay with us and perhaps even change us somehow. That is magical.
Poetry is, as Luis J. Rodriguez has said, a special and intense use of language, a very important way of using language to communicate what is sacred, and then by the same logic, what is also transgressive and/or blasphemous. All of these adjectives — sacred, transgressive, blasphemous — indicate social structures and social settings. This is not hermetic or abstruse to me. This is about communities of human beings and meaningful communication between human beings in social/shared spaces. Poetry hits us deeply, precisely because it speaks to our lived experience, things we are constantly trying to know, to understand, and to name.
That said, the book as a body of work which is doing what I’ve described above. That’s an ambitious and daunting task we set upon ourselves. But isn’t this why we do it, precisely because it is not cheap and easy, because the hard work and the results are indeed meaningful to our soul searching selves. Even the impulse to “simply” tell a story indicates to me something about communicating human experience and relating to others in important and necessary ways.
I don’t know that I am really saying anything new about how to teach another poet how to write a book or create a body. These are just some things I think when I work with emerging poets, that communicating the many layers of complex experiences is indeed challenging and something for which to strive. That the clarifying happens with each precise word choice, each precise formal decision we make, in its appearance on the page, its symmetries and repetitions, in its orality, in its movement from the opening of the body and through the body, from one poem into the next, into the next, into the ending and its many possibilities beyond the body and back into the world. That there are no easy resolutions and neat tie-ups, and that to claim otherwise would be cheapening.