The Fullest Expression of Self

 

The Key Hole, by Andrew Giovinazzo

The Key Hole, by Andrew Giovinazzo

“All the books we own, both read and unread,are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. … But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”  ~ Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree

 

 

 

 

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You for Muse

Amor Vincit Omnia (Love Conquers All), a depic...

Amor Vincit Omnia (Love Conquers All), a depiction of the god of love, Eros. By Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, circa 1601–1602 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Love poems never suited
me. Too un-sentimental,
a realist, an artist. I
wrote of concrete moments,
never tried sonnets or
romantic poesy. One
must have unrequited
love for that — a permanently
present, happy love says
little. Lives content not to
speak — but, lost un-held
things demand words. Need
expression of absence. Loss
or broken dreams demand
a voice.

Love poems never called
to me. Too realistic, too jaded
for fairy tales. I need
to crave the unavailable,
must have gut-wrenching
deep-set pain to push
the words forward, out of heated
muscle, flesh, heart – the poet
in me found you for Muse –
this reminds me of Greek
mythology, love-hate
relationships with the Oracles.

You will be
like other myths, will
grow distant,
un-useable. With time
an old god no longer
believed to exist. Your
shimmering marble
covered in moss,
decay crossing cream,
old water stains and
some new graffiti
will color you unimportant.

April 2011

Reading Billy Collins

Poetry is an...

Poetry is an... (Photo credit: liber(the poet);)

makes those trite phrases
in your poems glare and shine
like fools gold under a Texas moon.

Suddenly, all your poems stand up,
like age-old, long-gone Cowboys,
Yell out to the bartender:

Gimme’ a strong shot a whiskey! NOW man &
a beer for chasing down self-destruction,
to make it easier

to swallow all that black bile
you-they once considered poetry.
Reading Billy Collins makes

those dead-drought moments –
writers panic at a blank page –
rise up to a slop-house surface

in your mind. Mocking voices decry
an untalented impostor, not poet.
And then

the sun shines.
A feather-beam of light
falls across his final stanza

and hope returns — a dove-promise of the future,
whispering of a time to come
when, you too, poet-becoming, will be read.

 

~April 2012

 

Billy Collins is a wonderful poet and served as the United States Poet Laureate from 2001-2003. You can find out more about him at his website. FREE audio downloads from his collection, The Best Cigarette, may be found here

The Art of Seeing

 

 

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. ~Jonathan Swift

If I were going to select one thing that makes the difference in a poet and their poetry, or in the daily life of an average man, it would be the vision with which that person looks at himself and the world around him.

Jonathan Swift, a prolific writer, (best known for the prose masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels, and considered the foremost prose satirist in the English language*) gives a near perfect definition of (artistic-spiritual) vision when he says it is “the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

The poet’s true gift is his ability to see these invisible elements and then translate them. An excellent poet will see deeper than the average person. He will use this deeper vision, take in the essence of truth before him, and then use the medium of language to translate what he sees with intense emotion and minute detail. All great and poignant poetry is about vision, translation, and audience.

Poetic Eyes

Imagine yourself as a child opening a birthday gift – you tear the paper off the box and find a large magnifying glass inside.  The very first thing you do is go look at all the things you’re interested in with your new glass. You will see everything as before – but then, in a new way as the tiny elements of these things grow larger and clearer under magnification.

Now, imagine the poet, looking at everything in his world through a magnifying glass. He is already looking at the world around him, but he learns to tune his vision in such a way as to see deeper – as if he were holding a magnifying glass up in front of everything that catches his attention. This is how the poet “sees the invisible.”

Here is an example of detail from the poem, Death in Leamington, by John Betjeman:

She died in the upstairs bedroom
By the light of the evening star
That shone through the plate glass window
From over Leamington Spa.

Beside her the lonely crochet
Lay patiently and unstirred,
But the fingers that would have worked it
Were dead as the spoken word.

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high’ mid the stands and chairs —
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul,
And the things were alone with theirs./ …..

Betjeman uses a variety of poetic techniques in this excerpt, but pay special attention to his translation into imagery with meaning.

The death in Betjeman’s poem is recorded in slow-motion, each detail carefully carved in the readers mind, each small thing translated to perfection. We see the scene as the poet sees it – with the shared depth of sadness the poet experiences. He brings the moment to life in a vibrant, deep way which changes us, the reader, as we move through this episode with him. We see through his eyes.

Poetic Translation

The following poem is an example of a poet’s ability to use the smallest details, along with connotation, to create a vivid picture and joined experience with the reader. Robert Hayden is a master of experience translation in Those Winter Sundays:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Hayden sees the past with his father in the new light of his own maturity. The poem explores the coldness (ingratitude) felt as a child and creates a mirroring effect with the coldness of the house.

The reader sees and feels the sadness, the understanding and regret, as the poet drills-down to the simple weekly experience. The poet is, at once, both child and adult speaking to us, telling us his story in a way that brings us inside of it with him. The words are translated into an experience for the reader.

Poetic Audience

A poet writes for himself to large degree. However, he writes in a fixed time and place – each decade belongs to the lingering poetic voices which have named it. This means that a poet must always be conscious of Audience.

The poem cannot exist away and aside from audience. It speaks from a place and time where others live, where history occurs, and the future becomes the past. In thinking of audience, we must bring time and place to the table, and also class, status, country, and world-view.

Audience, in the larger sense, is demonstrated perfectly by Allen Ginsberg in this excerpt from the poem, America:

America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.

Ginsberg is speaking in and from a particular time in American history. His poems resonate strongly with people of that generation sharing similar experiences. They resonate now in a more general sense or as an example of defiance and rebellion to the status quo for people of a different culture or time.

Culture is a part of poem and audience alike. The following excerpts, by Gwendolyn Brooks and Sterling A. Brown speak with a strong voice that is both living in and speaking from a particular culture:

We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks

We Real Cool
The Pool Players
Seven at the Golden Shovel

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk Late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Excerpt from Riverbank Blues by Sterling A. Brown

A man git his feet set in a sticky mudbank,
A man git dis yellow water in his blood,
No need for hopin’, no need for doin’,
Muddy streams keep him fixed for good.

Little Muddy, Big Muddy, Moreau and Osage,
Little Mary’s, Big Mary’s, Cedar Creek,
Flood deir muddy water roundabout a man’s roots,
Keep him soaked and stranded and git him weak./…../

Brown’s poem about the Mississippi River speaks of a local, rural culture that lives with the good and the bad of the river. His poem tolls a warning while speaking generally of danger and oppression, yet deals specifically with the danger and oppression locally in relation to the River.

A “good” poem is hard to define. There are variances, personal preferences, and socio-political elements that make definition impossible. However, we can see that the hallmark of good poetry – poetry that lasts and brings a voice to it’s people, culture, and generation – is a combination of poetic vision, translation, and audience. The poet writing with strong abilities in these areas will be heard. ~

 “A culture is made – or destroyed – by its articulate voices.”   ~Ayn Rand

 

Art Prints

ARTWORK: Red Rose by Karen M. Scovill, courtesy of www.fineartamerica.com. You can find out more about the artist and view other works here.

*from Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

you for Muse

Love poems never suited
me. Too un-sentimental,
a realist, an artist. I
wrote of concrete moments,
never tried sonnets or
romantic poesy. One
must have unrequited
love for that — a permanently
present, happy love says
little. Lives content not to
speak — but, lost un-held
things demand words. Need
expression of absence. Loss
or broken dreams demand
a voice.

Love poems never called
to me. Too realistic, too jaded
for fairy tales. I need
to crave the unavailable,
must have gut-wrenching
deep-set pain to push
the words forward, out of heated
muscle, flesh, heart – the poet
in me found you for Muse –
this reminds me of Greek
mythology, love-hate
relationships with the Oracles.

You will be
like other myths, will
grow distant,
un-useable. With time
an old god no longer
believed to exist. Your
shimmering marble
covered in moss,
decay crossing cream,
old water stains and
some new graffiti
will color you unimportant.

April 2011

Husband

I live you
breathe you
love you, but
seldom write
poems about you.

The sun shines
without being
written.

The air moves,
invisible life,
never seen.

You
are the flow
of these
necessities
through me.

You are soil
holding my roots
in place,
nourishment
written
in your name.

Your face –
my memory.
Your arms –
my home.

Otherwise, my
spirit filled with
gypsy blood –
too crazy, too unorthodox
for the masses –
burns.

You are
all the deep-true
things that carry
me. I thought
it was time to
write a poem
for you – So
this is yours,
husband.

Declaration

 

I dream of poets —
of their bright-broken bruised
bones.

Their plight of speaking tomes
to the dead, to the living trying
to find word-songs to sing.
These ghosts of witness, prophets
caged in a time where prophets are
un-believed, are mere myths residing
in the places of Jesus
and miracles, and antiquated belief
systems. Poets
don’t exist beside
technology, briefcases,
economic woes, and woe is
the would-be poet-prophet who
tries to sing songs, speak warnings and
create dirges in a world gone deaf to hearing
and too busy for reading
and, of course, wouldn’t read poems anyway, but
would be more inclined toward
something like an e-book on “How to
Make $10,000 a year from home,” or
”The True Story of Rock Star John,”
a serialized E-special in print. Poets
and their prophecies spoken
in silent voices of white paper and black
letters in books filled with screaming
voices that are silent
upon the unhearing ears
of the world.

I dream of poets —
of their bright-broken
bruised bones.

 

 

 

 

March 2011