I sometimes (very rarely--when I somehow, strangely am not too embarrassed to--when I actually feel comfortable enough to--share with people that I actually write poems...) tell people, when this, that or another topic comes up in conversation, “You know, I’m actually working on a poem about that.” Recently, I have come to realize that often this “poem” that I am working on is often just a line or two sitting in its (or their) own otherwise blank document, waiting for me to finish it (or them)--sitting there in a primordial soup of meaning (or is it meaninglessness? I lose track...), like dry little sticks, poking up through that pure white nothingness of snow, waiting for spring to come and the thaw to begin and the juices to start flowing up, up from the soil from which they are growing. So where or what is this actual “poem” that I say that I am working on? (Is it the twigs? Is it the snow? Is it hiding in the earth underneath?) It’s not the grouping of words that finally finds its way onto the page, and it's definitely not those one or two lines, sitting there, all by their lonesomes on that big, blank, cold and lonely page. It’s something else, something that existed long before I even knew where those one or two lines were going to go or where they came from or where they were going to take me. It's something that spoke to me with something more (or was it less?) than words. It's something that I sometimes think of as a constellation, for lack of a better word to describe how this thing that hasn't yet made it's appearance in the world feels, or felt, back before it knew what it wanted to be. It's a thing that starts as a melange--part scent, part emotion, part kinesthetic feeling, part logical thought or conundrum or paradox, part memory or missing memory that pulls at me from the dark corners. It's like walking into a pantry (your grandmothers, your dream grand- mother's, your dream grandmother's dream), full of spices and herbs and root vegetables, dark and dusky autumnal reminiscent golden light and being overwhelmed, dumbfounded and found dumb and mute, being stopped right their in the tracks that you only just now (by virtue of this thing happening) realize you were riding on (when you thought you were in control, thought you were in the pilot's seat), by.....
...something... ...and then trying to put that something into words because words are all that you have and you know--you just Know--that someone, somewhere has had that something in their hands before, had it run between their legs like an obstinate feline, they've felt it brush by them, felt that very same thing's whispery wing push a gentle breeze across the skin of their upper arm and you just KNOW that you have to tell them, "I felt it too."
The poem is a thing that exists outside of time and space. It was there even before I wrote those one or two lines and it is something that is also else and other than the final thing that eventually finds its way on to the page. “A poem is nonetheless present from the conception, from the first germ of it crossing the mind—it must be scratched for and exhumed. There is an element of timelessness. The leading atomic scientist in Australia agreed with me the other day that time does not really exist. The finished poem is present before it is written and one corrects it. It is the final poem that dictates what is right, what is wrong.” —Robert Graves (from an interview in Paris Review) “Even the right words if ever we come to them tell of something the words never knew” --W. S. Merwin (from “What the Bridges Hear”, in his brilliant book of poems, The Shadow of Sirius) ~~~ It is thanks to Holly Lofgreen that I have come back to this Intersection and finally finished it and posted it after it sitting in my drafts folder for at least a year. We have been discussing this ephemeral nature of the poem--where it comes from...where it goes--which has helped me to crystalize these thoughts. There is power, real power--the kind that comes from a vulnerable honesty--in her work. You need to read her.
Day 6 of National Poetry Month.
And we’re missing things….
One of the butterflies by W. S. Merwin The trouble with pleasure is the timing it can overtake me without warning and be gone before I know it is here it can stand facing me unrecognized while I am remembering somewhere else in another age or someone not seen for years and never to be seen again in this world and it seems that I cherish only now a joy I was not aware of when it was here although it remains out of reach and will not be caught or named or called back and if I could make it stay as I want to it would turn into pain
Day 3 of National Poetry Month.
And we’re trying things on….
Raiment by W. S. Merwin Believing comes after there were coverings who can believe that we were born without them he she or it wailing back the first breath from a stark reflection raw and upside-down early but already not original into the last days and then some way past them the body that we are assured is more than what covers it is kept covered out of habit which is a word for dress out of custom which is an alteration of the older word costume out of decency which is handed down from a word for what is fitting apparently we believe in the words and through them but we long beyond them for what is unseen what remains out of reach what is kept covered with colors and sized we hunger for what is undoubted yet dubious known to be different and our fabrics tell of difference we dress in difference calling it ours
(...coming back to my words, through the words of others...) (...I am still saying thanks, still he is giving, gone one year ago...) Thanks by W. S. Merwin Listen with the night falling we are saying thank you we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings we are running out of the glass rooms with our mouths full of food to look at the sky and say thank you we are standing by the water thanking it smiling by the windows looking out in our directions back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging after funerals we are saying thank you after the news of the dead whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you over telephones we are saying thank you in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators remembering wars and the police at the door and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you in the banks we are saying thank you in the faces of the officials and the rich and of all who will never change we go on saying thank you thank you with the animals dying around us our lost feelings we are saying thank you with the forests falling faster than the minutes of our lives we are saying thank you with the words going out like cells of a brain with the cities growing over us we are saying thank you faster and faster with nobody listening we are saying thank you we are saying thank you and waving dark though it is Berryman By W. S. Merwin I will tell you what he told me in the years just after the war as we then called the second world war don't lose your arrogance yet he said you can do that when you're older lose it too soon and you may merely replace it with vanity just one time he suggested changing the usual order of the same words in a line of verse why point out a thing twice he suggested I pray to the Muse get down on my knees and pray right there in the corner and he said he meant it literally it was in the days before the beard and the drink but he was deep in tides of his own through which he sailed chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop he was far older than the dates allowed for much older than I was he was in his thirties he snapped down his nose with an accent I think he had affected in England as for publishing he advised me to paper my wall with rejection slips his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled with the vehemence of his views about poetry he said the great presence that permitted everything and transmuted it in poetry was passion passion was genius and he praised movement and invention I had hardly begun to read I asked how can you ever be sure that what you write is really any good at all and he said you can't you can't you can never be sure you die without knowing whether anything you wrote was any good if you have to be sure don't write (Two of my favorite poems by my favorite poet, on the anniversary of his death.) (Difficult if not impossible to pick favorites, really, but these two seem timely.) (With many thanks to Whimsy Mimsy for the connections, for the muddled thoughts...) (...let us stay deep in tides of our own...) (...until the words come drifting by...)