free verse
May 31, 2011

Living is for this

I have emptied myself too perfectly
of every last childhood reminiscing to be alive,
and as each raindrop falls onto my tin roof,
I am drifting further out to sea
on the puddles welling up in my front lawn
and on the water filling the potholes of my long driveway,
and soon the grass will be completely underwater
and I will walk barefoot through the mud
and let earth push itself between my toes
so that I can feel how the earthworms live.
I have emptied my self of my humanity,
and I don’t want it back because
as I was dreaming while lightning broke the night sky open,
the devil came to me in my sleep
and told me that he tried to cry out
and leave every trace of horror behind
and live in paradise and destroy himself
and care for nothing but the patterns of monarch butterfly wings
but life held him back because what are we
without something to struggle against?
But I am done with suffering.
I have turned in my ticket to the afterlife,
and I have renounced all my humanity
that was tied up in every moral wishing for better
because I am done struggling
against every unseen evil that lies nascent
in the sharp stones of my driveway –
the evils that lie waiting underneath
the tongues of the eight-year-olds
who have known too much for their age
and will let it all loose
when the adults have left to commit their own sins,
but I have emptied myself of the concept of sin.
I give up my guilt.
Guilt is for nothing.
Guilt is for making us feel like we cannot be human,
and so I have given up on being human.
Let me be an animal without words.
Let me live with my toes in the mud.
But oh my God,
how I love to sing.

Advertisements

Kierkegaard on poetry
May 31, 2011

I am currently wading through Soren Kierkegaard’s work, “Philosophical Fragments,” which he wrote in 1843 under the pseudonym, Johannes Climacus.  Because I have been reading and rereading this piece for a paper I have been working on, his theological ideas have had a significant impact on my work for the past few weeks.  Interestingly, in a section of the work that is somewhat like an aside to the reader, Climacus discusses the issue of originality and poetic authorship, so I thought I would share his thoughts on the matter:

“After all, every poet who steals, steals from another poet, and thus we are all equally shabby.”

“Or is this poem perhaps like a proverb, of which no author is known because it seems as if all humanity had composed it?”

“…since we both are now standing before this wonder, whose solemn silence cannot be disturbed by human wrangling about what is mine and what is yours, whose awe-inspiring words infinitely drown out human quarreling about mine and thine, forgive me my curious mistaken notion of having composed it myself.  It was a mistaken notion, and the poem was so different from every human poem that it was no poem at all but the wonder.”

At first, it might seem like Climacus is perhaps not giving poets enough credit.  It is tempting to assert that not all poets are thieves and that we are capable, occasionally, to manage something other than shabby plagiarism.  Surely not everything we write is simply stolen from the ideas that humanity holds in common.  But perhaps what is original about poets’ works are not the wonders that our poems reveal, but simply the words we use to reveal them.  The trappings of the poem, then, are original; poets are the true authors of the words they choose to form the poem.  But the ideas that underlie those particular lines of poetry are everyone’s.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that if that spark of common humanity is not present, then the poem falls flat.  Poetry that reveals only the particular can have meaning only to those few people who know that particular, but true poetry is that which, through its particulars, can show us something that we knew all along and held so innately within ourselves that we didn’t even realize was there.

free verse
May 10, 2011

A down-going

We are falling through an emptiness of our own making.
In the pitch-blackest hour of our nights
when all the stars have turned their backs
and the earth has forgotten why it needs to turn,
we will crouch on the far-side of the continents
and unravel all the tales we forgot to tell
and let the unspun strands slip into the
steady sunlight and burn
so that there will be nothing left but
the ashes of us – the charred remnants
of the humanity we once were.
We were the humanity who once spun all the strings
together into the chords holding the planets in place,
those lines that let us traverse the nights as tightrope walkers,
our toes grasping at the unwavering woven tales
of ourselves that kept us off the ground.

free verse
April 10, 2011

Awakening

The lightning is asking me to shout thunder back at it,
and the wind is telling me to let my hair fly long and loose,
and I am listening to the entire world as it speaks to me!
I am opening every window of my house
and beginning the spring cleaning
and sweeping everything old and dusty and dank
out from under the carpets
and over the threshold,
and the wind is taking it all away.

In the night when the moon seems brighter
than every star combined,
I will sleep on the dewy grass
and leave a crumpled outline of my self
for you to find in the morning.

Won’t you join me here?
Won’t you let me bring you close to my self
and embrace you with my long bare arms
and let you see that this is part of
whatitmeanstobehuman?
Let us be human together!

In the night when clouds blow past the moon
and cast shadows that remind us that
light must be noticed,
I am noticing you,
you and your green eyes shining in starlight,
and you and your feet stepping silently on packed earth.
Stand with me at the brink and
hold my hand
and you will be alive with me
and we will feel the life of every bird and river
rumble through our bodies,
and I will kiss you once and
it will feel like a thousand times.

an ars poetica
April 5, 2011

As a student of philosophy in the newly forming post-postmodernist epoch, it is hard not to question the purpose and value of writing poetry.  What “work” is my poetry attempting to do?  What work should it be doing?  Does it need to do any work at all?  Does its meaning reach beyond the bounds of my necessarily subjective authorial point of view?  Does it need to reach beyond those bounds to have meaning for me and a different, though no less significant, meaning for others?  These are the types of questions I run into.

I will admit my greatest fear as a poet to you: I am afraid that my poetry has no purpose outside of myself.  In asking these philosophical questions about the purpose and meaning of poetry, I am struggling with the possibility that while the act of writing poetry may have great personal significance for me, the poems themselves, when sent out into the world, do nothing.  I am afraid that the beauty, complexity, and the deep emotional resonance in my poems exists only for me, the poet.  And it may be that as I age and change, the poems of my adolescence will lose their meaning, even for me, and simply become empty words put together by a naive teenager who thought they sounded good.

I am afraid, then, of an inability to reveal and explore certain universal, timeless, and essentially human themes in and through poetry.  Postmodernists tell me that such themes do not exist.  They tell me that every experience is inevitably subjective, relative, hemmed in by the bounds of its time and place.  “God is dead;” grand overarching themes that give our lives a sense of direction and purpose have been shot down; the gun is in the hands of Foucault and his contemporaries.

Despite the force of the postmodernist argument, I cannot deny my feeling that there is something we all have in common as humans, something that cannot be written off as a product of imperialist western thought.  Shakespeare wrote of love, and challenged us: “If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”  And has anyone proven the error yet?  Has anyone risen to proclaim, “No, Shakespeare, your conception of love and your portrayal of it in poetry does not speak to my own human experience.  You are in error.  I have never loved.  So be it!”  I repeat his challenge; let the man who has never loved speak now.

Poetry is a tuning fork.  The poet carefully constructs it so that, when the tines are struck, it rings out and gives sound to a true, clear note.  Within every human, there is an infinity of strings, stretched to their fullest extent, and we pluck them from time to time and let a music flow out of our being into the world, and when a poem is brought close to us and sounds its note, a part of us resonates and sings out, in tune with the poem.  Perhaps we do not all possess the same strings.  Perhaps we are all tuned differently.  But can I deny that the poems that I hold closest to myself are those that make me think, “I have known this feeling in myself, as this poet once did, and knowing our commonality, our shared humanity, makes this feeling all the more beautiful.  It makes my being sing”?  Can I deny this?  Never.

Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors, said in his novel, Timequake, that “a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit.”  The best poetry does this.  It makes us aware of things that exist both outside of us and because of us, of things that make us human and that we as humans make.  These are the things that give our lives meaning; they let us know that there is more to our limited experiences than purely subjective knowledge.  We are a part of something greater than ourselves; poetry shows us this.  It sounds a chord within us that we cannot mute.

sestina
March 10, 2011

Water

Hydrogen and Oxygen go well together.
They stopped caring about man-
made things with their first rain puddle on the concrete.
And even after years past counting, they are still making love
and trying to figure out how to make rain fall up.
They want not to lie about in puddles on spring evenings.

Their existence is so different from our quiet evenings,
their bond not quite like the way we are together,
even though we are made mostly of the same stuff as rain, being human,
even though on summer nights, to feel the left over heat, we lie down on the sidewalk concrete.
Because I do not say what I have for you is love,
but I am lying next to you every early morning I wake up.

Hydrogen and Oxygen are flying up.
They are dancing through all the evenings
of their lives.  They are lying with their heads together
in the cold nights when they are far away from all things human
and when they have left everything but themselves lying on the concrete.
They are wandering wild and are everything, in love.

Hydrogen and Oxygen are in love,
always.  They know the up-
ward feeling of their bodies evaporating from tea kettles on Sunday evenings
when they can’t help but be together.
They are embracing and dripping off of maple leaves, and, when no human
is looking, leaving dappled raindrop footprints in the concrete.

We never drew our initials in drying concrete;
we never thought to shrink wrap and flash freeze our love.
What we have is not so much a giving up
as a settling in – into our little life worn couch cushion on Sunday evenings
when we can’t help but be together –
when we can’t help but breath together and be human.

In the cold nights when we are far away from all things human
and when we have left everything but ourselves lying on the concrete,
let us wander wild and be everything, in love.
Let us fly up.
Let us dance through all the evenings
of our lives.  Let us lie with our heads together.

Hydrogen and Oxygen are in love with being together,
and as we give ourselves up to the concreteness of our humanity,
they, without worry, let their evenings pass by.