Tuesday, 20 May 2014

On Poetry: Hesitation, Definition & Celebration

I came across these meditations on poetry recently and just have to share them here for their wisdom and reeling truth value.

The first is a poem by Billy Collins which proves that even poets get the non-writing blues. 

We always hear of writers having writer's block, but not so much poets. So it's refreshing and comforting to know that they experience block from time to time! The poem, true to Collins' characteristic style, is witty, acerbic and entertaining, from the sombre start 'no act of writing has been committed this morning', 'and there on the couch am I, exploring/the vast continent of the ceiling' to the hilarious line about the verbs 'flying around the room in tights like a circus act.' How gleefully brilliant! 

There's a whole tone of cheekiness and light-heartedness to this poem, that seems to present block as a silly, maybe even over-hyped funny thing, and succeeds in taking the bite out of it. Well, I think so anyway. What comes across is Collins' innate love for words, which you can see in many other of his poems - I'm thinking of 'Thesaurus' and 'Winter Syntax'. A love for them as animated things, always mischievous and playful, and endlessly fascinating to him.

Paperwork ~ Billy Collins

Enough tea and cigarettes have been consumed here
but no act of writing has been committed this
No words have been hauled from the dictionary
like pails of saltwater brought up from the sea.  
The typewriter remains untouched on the table,
a strange, dark instrument whose secret purpose 
was buried long ago with its mad inventor. 

Outside, the high branches of winter trees
ban and clack together like canes in the wind,
and as usual, if you are quiet and listen hard,
you can hear the rhythm of human suffering
working steadily in the background. 

But indoors, things have come to a standstill. 
A thesaurus lies open by a curtainless window. 
Nearby is a vase of pens, a perfectly bound notebook,
and there on the couch am I, exploring
the vast continent of the ceiling, hands
behind head in the first position of idleness.

I am waiting for a sentence to appear,  
for a small thought to try on a jacket of language, 
for a syllable to step lightly onto my tongue. 
Until then I can only thumb through the Oxford
Anthology of Regrettable Verse or look something up
in the Cambridge Companion to Insincerity. 

Later, when the light softens into evening violet,
I may compose an experimental novel in my sleep, 
or have a vision of all the verbs in English 
flying around the room in tights like a circus act. 

Or I may dream again of encountering that ancient
who lives alone in a forest in the middle of a book.
My eyes will be wide with amazement as we sit down 
on a roadside bench and he begins to recount
his etymology - the long, sad, wondrous story of his

Next up is something more excitable. After you've overcome your block you of course can't help but feel revel in the rapture of it all when the Muse is in and words are free-flowing and the world seems suffused in its golden glow, making all things effervescent and inspiration-full! 

How would you define poetry now?!

I've heard many lovely and eloquent definitions of what poetry is, penned by poets duly smitten. I've seen a few of Carl Sandburg's definitions of poetry before but never suspected they came from an entire excerpt. Every one of these following definitions is ingenious in its originality and startling in its accuracy. I think what Carl Sandburg manages to do in this declaration of definitons is not just capture poetry in all its mysterious wonder, but also in all its escapades of fun and capabilities for amazement. Delight and enlightenment. Pretty spectacular really.

I can hardly pick a favourite; each holds its own wow-that's-it-for-sure! factor. Though I do feel a special affinity for no.10: 'Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air', but then can't resist poetry as a 'sequence of...moon wisps' and 'poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes,' not to mention the zany outrageousness of no. 19 and so  many others.  Electric, all of them. And you can't help but marvel at the mind that came up with them. Truly astounding. If you haven't read any of Sandburg's poems, I'd highly recommend them!  They're odes of delight and crazy, kooky, sentiments that prod at magic and wonder.

Definitions of Poetry - by Carl Sandburg:

1. Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllables, wave lengths.

2. Poetry is an art practised with the terribly plastic material of human language.

3. Poetry is the report of a nuance between two moments, when people say, 'Listen!' and 'Did you see it' 'Did you hear it? What was it?'

4. Poetry is the tracing of the trajectories of a finite sound to the infinite points of its echoes.

5. Poetry is a sequence of dots and dashes, spelling depths, crypts, cross-lights, and moon wisps.

6. Poetry is a puppet-show, where riders of skyrockets and divers of sea fathoms gossip about the sixth sense and the fourth dimension.

7. Poetry is a plan for a slit in the face of a bronze fountain goat and the path of fresh drinking water.

8. Poetry is a slipknot tightened around a time-beat of one thought, two thoughts, and a last interweaving thought there is not yet a number for.

9. Poetry is an echo asking a shadow dancer to be a partner.

10. Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly the air.

11. Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations.

12. Poetry is a fossil rock-print of a fin and a wing, with an illegible oath between.

13. Poetry is an exhibit of one pendulum connecting with other and unseen pendulums inside and outside the one seen.

14. Poetry is a sky dark with a wild-duck migration.

15. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.

16. Poetry is any page from a sketchbook of outlines of a doorknob with thumb-prints of dust, blood, dreams.

17. Poetry is a type-font design for an alphabet of fun, hate, love, death.

18. Poetry is the cipher key to the five mystic wishes packed in a hollow silver bullet fed to a flying fish.

19. Poetry is a theorem of a yellow-silk handkerchief knotted with riddles, sealed in a balloon tied to the tail of a kite flying in a white wind against a blue sky in spring.

20. Poetry is a dance music measuring buck-and-wing follies along with the gravest and stateliest dead-marches.

21. Poetry is a sliver of the moon lost in the belly of a golden frog.

22. Poetry is a mock of a cry at finding a million dollars and a mock of a laugh at losing it.

23. Poetry is the silence and speech between a wet struggling root of a flower and a sunlit blossom of that flower.

24. Poetry is the harnessing of the paradox of earth cradling life and then entombing it.

25. Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment.

26. Poetry is a fresh morning spider-web telling a story of moonlit hours of weaving and waiting during a night.

27. Poetry is a statement of a series of equations, with numbers and symbols changing like the changes of mirrors, pools, skies, the only never-changing sign being the sign of infinity.

28. Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.

29. Poetry is a section of river-fog and moving boat-lights, delivered between bridges and whistles, so one says, "Oh!" and another, "How?"

30. Poetry is a kinetic arrangement of static syllables.

31. Poetry is the arithmetic of the easiest way and the primrose path, matched up with foam-flanked horses, bloody knuckles, and bones, on the hard ways to the stars.

32. Poetry is a shuffling of boxes of illusions buckled with a strap of facts.

33. Poetry is an enumeration of birds, bees, babies, butterflies, bugs, bambinos, babayagas, and bipeds, beating their way up bewildering bastions.

34. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.

35. Poetry is the establishment of a metaphorical link between white butterfly-wings and the scraps of torn-up love-letters.

36. Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

37. Poetry is a mystic, sensuous mathematic of fire, smoke-stacks, waffles, pansies, people, and purple sunsets.

38. Poetry is the capture of a picture, a song, or a flair, in a deliberate prism of words.

A hard act to follow these delightful darings, but  I'll end now with a poem I've posted here before, but cannot reiterate enough for its flare of feeling. 

Pablo Neruda's simply titled 'Poetry' is a reeling celebration of what poetry meant to him. I have a copy of this stuck into one of my notebooks but resolve now to read it as often as I can. For it's proof of the magic that  lies within poetry.  A true testament to its power and ability to transform - 'drunk with the great starry void...I wheeled with the stars/my heart broke loose on the wind.'  Yes.

Poetry ~ Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind. 

There!  I hope these thoughts will inspire you as they have me. Poetry is a marvellous magic thing, the highest mode of appreciation and realisation of the world, a means of celebration, an initiation into wonder. 

For those of you it has touched, you know what I mean. And for those it hasn't, well, it will yet, in some way, if you want it to,  if you give it the chance. As Flaubert said, "There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it”. There isn't. Watch and see.

For now,
~ Siobhán


No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a comment by signing in with your Google ID, blog/website, or Anonymous if you haven't any of these! It's easy! Feedback tickles me pink :)