Thursday, June 23, 2005

'What Is Poetry?' - PAW POW; Or, On Peddling Peace - 'I'm Sam, I Am...'

Thanks to Joy Harjo for posting yesterday—with permission—Sam Hamill's peace, "A Monk's Tale" from the Virginia Quarterly, Spring, 2005. It contains this quote which I had to write down, and now have to store in a reasonably labeled file for handy reference when I need a definition of poetry—as much as something which by its very nature resists definitions may be de-fined:

"Poetry is social speech in musical measure with traditions including the serious investigations of history and culture and language and the human condition."

And then he goes on to present an example of such in the Iraqi poet, Salah al Hamdani's poem, "Bagdad, Mon Amour." This poem made me cry. These lines, translated by Molly Deschenes:

"This is my misfortune
Like a comma locking a line of ink.
Bagdad my love,
I was crouching in the corner of the page
In the shelter of the arid days,
Far from the torrents of blood
That carry the name of those shot with the silence of man."

How a line of ink makes a link, and locks it. How the torrents of blood are the same everywhere without a name.

And, another way of naming poetry is presented by Hamill: Poetry is "a way of asking forgiveness for the evil in human existence." (~Abba Kovner, a Jewish poet from the Vilna resistence) Resistance against the right to annihilate. Resistance as a right to resist annihilation—of the body, of the Spirit, of the mind.

This, to my mind, is the Poetry of Witness. Not merely to record, to document, to take down names—it is this—but as a way of asking forgiveness. For as my late father said, in his dying days, about a poem I had written about a massacre in Chiapas, Mexico: "What does it do to take away the sadness?" It tells the truth—for someone. It leaves a trace. It leaves a name in the dirt.

"And if some poet feels obliged to speak for those whose voices have been silenced, we might benefit by listening, even as that means listening to the dead. And numbering and naming the dead." ~Sam Hamill

This, to my body, speaks to the ignor(e)ance of some to certain traces and blaring distinguishers of human existence different from that of the dominant class; and speaks to the problem at hand to the writing hand that is the body of a blasted child, the dead blast of baby lodged in an Iraqi mother from over tons of depleted uranium, or not enough water. It is a certain knowledge that keeps me to the reading page, to the poem about somebody's Chinese grandmother's love-pigeon to a learned grand-daughter, the knowledge of the slaughter in 1886 of so many mothers' mothers burning in California "China Towns" in fires lit on feast days by local firemen. Makes me want to read the poem. And makes the poem stand apart from someone else's experience of a Lutheran 'nana' (I probably have this wrong) in upstate somestate (somewhere leafy) rendered "invisible", left culturally unmarked to the "general" reader: de classed; re if-fied.

The spirit of the poem is the Spirit of the Dead, which is always already plural and finitely singular; experience.

Poet, Joe Richey, once quoted me as saying that poetry is the opposite of war. I think the question was "Does war make poetry possible?" No. War is made possible by cancelling out the individual, and the trace of that human experience in all its blooming freedom. And is fought by a few sincere individuals and the many afraid of dying for lack of the economic benefits to be found therein.

"True peace is achieved from within, one person at a time. Poetry clarifies the vision." (~SH)

And talking about (interpreting, cataloging, reifying, creating hire-archies of species of poets and phylums/fie alumns of formal movements & informalist writers—most typically dominated by those, quite fortunate and few, privileged with the tools of formal/"Educated" discourse—hueing and hawing away at curricula for standardized testing. etc.) poetry muddies the sight/site.

"There are no absolutes in poetry. And that is the only absolute." I'm sure this is written in more than one poetry notebook from my poetry students. In poetry there is no/thing but vision. And in a world of seeming darkness, I'll take "Vision" over "Sincerity" any hour. (Some liars are the most sincere.) Particularly when the "New Sincerity" threatens to become another label for old -isms and moldier -ists.

So, Poetry. (UGH) What is it good for? ("Absolutely NOTHIN!") ("Say it. Say it.") ("Say it again...")

"Poets are good at helping people look more closely at words and all their implications." (~SH)

Good, to me, in a New Age of Bullshit. (see Frankfurt's Theory of Bullshit, it's a philosophical term and not a profanity, or allegation; it could be a declaration) It tells the truth. More fact than fiction: facts of history, of culture, of language. And, maybe even, utter facts of joy. It can happen.

"The poem is a little body of language and music and enlightenment. . . . A poem can change a life." (~SH)

One of the little consequences of poetry—that user of metaphor/meta for that which, "besides usuary," is the only thing which produces excess value as was expounded by Pound who never gave a pound of birth—and coincidences to be found therein; poetry, whereby (perhaps) "men" (sic) don't "die everyday for lack of" its "hyacinths & biscuits," they just die.

Some, miserably. Some, having lived their change. Some, having left it.

"This is the song of begining.
And this is the benediction of the birds at 5am
Because the star returns to us again
To break the hungry dark."

~Joy Harjo, from 6/22/05 draft of poem, "Benediction"
And yesterday morning, I stay up 'til T rises at 4:15am. Afterwards, a choral choir, sweet trills, more than usual. A nest of nestlings, naked under the drainpipe outside my writing window. Sweet feeding, an elegant hunger.

On June 23, 1852, Thoreau wanders through a forest wearing flowers on his head: "There is something in the darkness and the vapors that arise from the head—at least if you take a bath—which preserves flowers through a long walk."

On June 23, 2005, my Franklin planner says: "Men are created different; they lose their social freedom and their individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other." ~David Riesman

As, this movementless poet, now, puts another book* to bed—as old newsmen say—and extends her PAW for POW.
* book update: finished BIRD AVE last night/this morning. Typing up new poems for Hard Drive, the last (final) draft to go. I hope I can finish it all to send to Bryce today before Luis Urrea's reading at Tattered Cover @ Cherry Creek (a long way to go without drive-ing) tonight.
*note: POW stands, here, for Poetry of Witness, but can also stand for my preferred acronym: Poets Opposing War (Poetry Opposite War?) as (not) opposed to "Poets Against the War"
To Be Continued Post Libros. . .

mientras hasta la paz
  • PAW

  • PAAW

  • The Downing Street Memo - What Is It?

  • The Pentagon Strike

  • What Really Happened?

  • Think Progress

  • Grand Theft America

  • More Democracy Now

  • Hope

  • Peacemakers Teams

  • Freeway Bloggers

  • Rants

  • Take Back the Media

  • Think Yellow

  • Don't Mourn. (Ch)IMPEACH!

  • Don't Mourn.Poeticize
  • .
    Chuck Class & Poetry!


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