Poetry. I, too, dislike it, Marianne Moore says. But one would have to be a fool to take her seriously. Her stance, in the poem, is of course 1) rhetorical and 2) ironic. A modernist must, if she wants to be taken seriously, assume both of these positions to preserve her earnest nature. That, it seems to me, is one use of poetry that doesn’t receive much attention. Poetry acts as a kind of arena, where deadly serious play can be practiced. In that arena, one exercises the essential gestures of life. Therefore, if one looks closely at a poem one may find the genuine. I guess, in most cases, the very least would be the genuine urge to get IT right. And IT, in this case, would be life, the living of life.
It is safe in poetry to question one’s most sincerest convictions. In the world it isn’t so safe. Our convictions must be, to a certain extent, fixed and tested, because convictions lead to actions and, as I’ve heard it said, there is no telling where action may lead. A good poet, who has managed to tests his convictions, might even come to possess a kind of second-sight. I’m not talking about fortunetelling here. Not even close. What I’m saying is that the experience of concentration – the kind of concentration poetry requires – is the recognition, with every twist and turn, that one has been here before. Everything seems suddenly familiar. The serendipitous becomes the everyday. It is a wonder, thereafter, that one missed the obvious connections between things, and not the other way around.
After poetry, one might be surprised that the world ever seemed threatening or strange. That jostling in the brush isn’t a monster. It is a friend. Perhaps he comes to bring you bad news, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a friend. And should that news stop your heart, consider it a mercy, because to have survived the shock would have been worse. We are the strangers in this world, desiring speech from the incommunicable mass, as Steven puts it. The world means us neither harm nor good. It’s kisses are sweet always to a part of us, the part that is nature’s kin.
The center of being isn’t far away. It is quite close, and yet it might take a lifetime of prodding the dark to touch it. Then, what would that experience be? I think an earnest and more or less fearless individual might touch the center, the core, many times and still misunderstand the experience. Once it comes as a shock, once it comes as universal love, once it comes as fatigue. But it is the same experience. And it doesn’t seem to matter how prepared one is for the rendezvous. That which is genuine always outshines all prefatory exercises. And each experience, whether more or less intense, finds a new person and leaves a newer person still.
The hope of poetry is that one, at last, utters something true, that one speaks words equal to experience. Only the best poets achieve a poetry like this. Most never understand the question and, finding some style which suits them, continue in that spirit or, worse still, never settle the matter of style and think changing costumes alters the creature inside. Only the genuine experience rightly named and understood alters the creature inside. And the alterations I mean aren’t changes so much as they are recognitions. The successful poet sees what is and, as a result of this seeing, changes his understanding of what he thinks he is to what he is actually, whether that be a luminous angel or some paltry nude.