Here are some thoughts on poetics my four year old daughter and I were discussing the other day. I took these notes:
So much of poetry today seems like young adult fiction, meant for a readership who can’t sit still for more than five minutes, and certainly not if they are confused. This is my favorite kind of poetry.
Listening to the story, I exercise my will to believe. Looking at the painting, I make a story of it, and find it beautiful. Waking in the morning, I find her fresh, new, and choose to be in love with her. We may be the happiest or the most miserable people in the world, it is up to us to a large degree. A broad black butterfly is white with this.
There is, of course, inherent meaning in every work of art. The most abstract painting still says at least “white paint,” or “orange line,” “shape,” or “I am an abstract painting painted by someone who chose to put this here, that there, etc.” At some point in the painting’s narrative we pick up the meaning and run with it, and may take it wherever we want. There is no one to say whether we are right or not, whether our reading is the correct one. There is no correct reading of any painting or any poem. An artist who implies that there is, is making porridge rather than art, and should stay out of it besides.
I will not print any porridge in any issue of PageBoy.
Poisoning by spraying of DDT for Dutch elm disease in the 1950s was instrumental in generating concern over the potential for a “Silent Spring.” The concern was this: that the DDT-coated elm leaves would be processed by earthworms, which would then be eaten by robins. The robins would die and no song would fill suburban mornings or either evening cul-de-sacs. This is the joy of art and poetry and living.
Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. I do not propose any attempt to “figure out” a painting, or a marriage, but to sit before it, to let it speak all the things it seems to speak and might be speaking. To allow these possibilities to also be the painting. Obfuscation can be a rich porridge indeed.
I will print only porridge in every issue of PageBoy.
Misunderstanding is one means of understanding a work of art. To allow for misunderstandings is a device as valid and as useful as metaphor or meter.
The question to me seems to be this: Is misery real, or is it narrative poetry that makes us miserable? That dresses us in sweatpants and sits us in front of our televisions. That takes us to the mall on Sundays, and to Applebee’s after. Don’t tell me who I am or who you are either I really don’t care unless of course you are unknowable or at least seem unknowable then yes I would love to have sex with you later on if the weather’s nice. It is why I see when I look out at it.
Of course, no marriage lasts forever happily along. Even a block of wood gets bored, and a lightpost will die if you let it. This is why we have museums.
PageBoy is more a mausoleum or a geranium, yum.
The organ that birds use to produce vocalizations (songs and calls) is very different in location and structure from that of a poet. The vocal organ of birds is a unique bony structure called a syrinx, which lies at the lower end of the trachea, is surrounded by an air sac, and may be deep in the breast cavity. The vocal organ of a poet, in contrast, is a linear structure called a syntax, which may take any shape at all depending on mood or temperament, and is most often surrounded by a wine sac. Like a songbird, the poet’s organ may be deep in the breast cavity, but also may be found in other locales, so long as it is deep.
You don’t become the world’s casual dining leader by serving up tampon spondee or blonde fondue. Her wings are a different matter.
The initial step is a gesture, a word if you will but usually, for me, a phrase. If you need the world to be put together for you, then you most probably don’t belong in the world. The world is a series of fragments, each as important as the other. Peach as important as a feather. Of course I’m wrong about this, you can’t fly with an arm stabbed by peaches.
Everything rhymes with everything, it’s only the other things that don’t.
Finally, Mary Oliver writes in A Poetry Handbook, “A reader beginning a poem is like someone stepping into a rowboat with a stranger at the oars; the first few draws on the long oars through the deep water tell a lot – is one safe, or is one apt to be soon drowned? A poem is that real a journey. Its felt, reliable rhythms can invite, or can dissuade. A meaningful rhythm will invite. A meaningless rhythm will dissuade.”
Here’s to drowning in suede!