Monday, April 30, 2012

Poetry Requires Difference

Dante and his Comedy between heaven and hell.
Poetry requires difference by its nature. If poetry makes itself out of ordinary boring imprecise language (as much published poetry does), it is mediocre or bad poetry. Poetry to be beautiful must separate itself from the ordinary –– by extravagance, by purity, by precision, by original vision or imagination.

- Donald Hall, Their Ancient Glittering Eyes

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If it is true for poetry (and it is true), then how can it not be so in life?

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"I read poetry all the time. It's where I get the news." So said an old friend almost 20 years ago. When she said it I knew she was right. That is, if the news you seek is about something other than current events. Poetry aims elsewhere. It can take the quotidian and fashion something eternal, or it can take those fleetingly current events and freeze time. Poetry aims elsewhere - outside of time. It is a stake stuck in the ground insisting that this not be washed away in the endless waters of time; it insists on its voice, it's prerogatives, it's one clear moment of understanding carved out of nothing but thought and cadence. 

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.
 Poetry aims elsewhere, and for once, then, something emerges and that makes all the difference.

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What is being fucked other than always being wrong to the light? If you think poetry is about lilies of the field and weepy love, then you have only been reading Hall's mediocre or bad poetry. If you think your life is supposed to be a jaunt through high meadows in full flower, then you are living a mediocre and bad life. Life, if you would live it awake, requires difference by its nature. If your life is fucked it is because you have been imprecise or have not insisted upon your vision. You have failed to be extravagant in the living of your life. 

What hems you in? What whispers in your ear and says, "That's too much to hope for?"

If you are to unfuck what's been fucked you must, by purity of vision, by exactitude, take what is ordinary - being alive - and transform it into eternity. All within the bounds of your rotting body. This is what makes man great. This is what makes life, unfair in its premise, worth wrestling with, worth shaping, worth carving, worth meeting and insisting that this moment not be lost, this moment not be a formless blip, but instead be something.

It does not matter what you aspire to. Aspire.
It does not matter if you care about poetry. You are a poem.
It does not matter how long that stake you pound into the ground lasts. The good it can do for you is while you are alive and if you have been precise, if your vision is purely your own, if you have loved your life extravagantly, then there will be good left behind when you leave: others you have touched who find in your example the courage to look beyond the surface reflecting back their own image and aim elsewhere.

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