Where to Start: On Choosings & Leavings

I’ve been considering a new course.  I’d like to include on this blog the work I’m doing — not poetry, that is, poems, but the reading that goes into the writing of poems — and I’d like to assume a new method of expression, one much closer to my voice, my personal, private voice.  This method of expression isn’t really new.  (Isn’t that a terrible phrase, method of expression?  I guess I use it to avoid voice, a word that I dislike more than the phrase I’ve used because of the meaning it has accumulated in the program era.)  I have gone through this metamorphosis before.  There used to be a time in my life, when I wrote two kinds of poems.  There were the poems meant for public consumption, and then the scraps of consciousness and such, which were the poems that served as a map of my inner life, my genuine, sincerest heart.  At some point, these two voices merged and still they continue to merge.  It is a messy process, with many false steps, dead ends and frustrations.  But the ends, however ugly the means, I have found are worth the struggle.

Largely, the essays — I see them more as essays than blog posts, because of how complete they seem and polished, as if I dressed myself up for a meeting or a party or a Christening before each example — I’ve posted here, while interconnected, stand alone.  They have other merits, but their chief merit, as far as I’m concerned, is their central purpose or governing theme.  Each, really, is an attempt to further my understanding of poetry, its uses and its spiritual necessities.  But as of late, I’ve felt the theme or themes here too restrictive and the method of expression too limited or limiting.  So when I’ve begun to write, to post, I find what I want to say much larger and sloppier than the idiom to which I’ve become accustomed.  It’s as if my hands overflow.  But it isn’t my hands.  It is my eyes.  It’s like in a dream where, attempting to see more clearly, I strain and that straining keeps me from the clarity I seek.

In the language of that old voice, then, it’s time to revise.  I may still employ that word, from time to time, I guess, but it is likely that what I come to mean by revision will not resemble what I’ve meant.  If, of course, I find that what I seek now doubles back to prove that something in what I have sought is true, then–but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  In this case, revision means not changing my point of view in order to see more clearly that which is, but rather changing the vehicle so that it might suit that which it carries.  The word vehicle here, I guess, corresponds, albeit loosely, to what the Buddhists mean by that term.  But it is perhaps more accurate to say, considering the metaphor above, that this newest revision requires me to change the sense organ with which I perceive, that is, exchange hands for eyes or, better still, hands and eyes and all for heart.

There are some obvious and not so obvious reasons for calling these forthcoming scraps choosings & leavings.  Some of these reasons are references to work I’ve done, poems I’ve written.  The word leaf or some variation or declension of leaf appears almost obsessively in my poems.  And implied by my concept of revision is the notion that whatever ceases to be true, whatever fails to meet reality on its terms, must be left.  Choosing what is from what isn’t may be the only sensible aim of putting pen to page.  Or fingers to keyboard.  Or eyes to words.  But there is something more here to be said, especially about the word choose.

The Latin word for read means to choose or to pick.  Our words election and lecture stem from this definition.  Our first readings, or our first choosings, according to this understanding, are, at best, prejudiced, ill-fitting and, where they adhere to the truth at all, governed by luck.  It is tempting to think that it is something other than luck, which chooses for us, as it seems Augustine believed.  But it is important to remember that, in the case of Augustine, there were many years of preparation, both inner and outer circumstance, which led to his conversion.  The act of opening the book and choosing a passage for him may have seemed divinely inspired but it wasn’t exactly or entirely.  Still, I won’t call it arbitrary either.  None of our choices are arbitrary after a while.  The more meaning our passages accumulate the less arbitrary they are.  I have been reading and choosing and leaving for most or all of my adult life now.  I don’t hear, outside my window, a child calling me to pick it up and read, but I’d like to see where my choosings might still lead and what I might still leave or keep.  Then let whatever bird or child that chooses to call to me call to me, and see what sense it makes.

In the past, I’ve composed these posts right here.  This post, too, has been composed right here, on the computer.  The aim of these new posts is to transpose what accumulates in my marble notebook into a more polished form — though not so polished, I hope, that something strange and original fails to jut our here and there, jagged and lovely and fine to touch.  Perhaps I will spend a month, say, on Job or a week on Lear or, I don’t know, fifteen minutes on Jung or Stevens or someone else.  The hope is that, like with poetry, something, however rough hewn, shapes these choosings until, if the exercise is practiced long enough, like meditation, like dreaming, like sleep, a pattern emerges, and that will be, if not the truth, the very bottom of it all and top of it, too, then at least an outline suggesting, like a footprint, someone has come this way.

I see already in the paragraph above the influence, that seems like faith, of certain writers whose power struck me when I first read them.  This original meeting may have come, at least partially, by chance, but what comes of it now is no longer governed by fortune.  Whatever purpose illuminates these choosings now is mine and has been, if not sparked by an act of will then certainly fanned and fed by it.  Originality, I think, isn’t creation ex nihilo — not for us anyway — but choosing from what is and seems to be only what can’t be discarded.  Then, once the task has been completed, we must cast our light upon that shape or void and call it good.  This is the beginning and end of all our choosings & leavings, all our morality and love.

If I fail here, it can’t be failure.  Or, at least, it will be so like absolute failure, it will have to be a kind of success.  Exhaustion may be all this sort of experiment desires.  The end will present itself, even as this beginning has been itching at my eyes and tickling my ears for as long as I can remember.  What strikes me now about this is that, where in old posts I have wanted to connect the searching of poetry with the search for the divine, here I can’t find the same parallel.  The divine may be not what we find but what finds and burns away all the error until what remains is the truth.  Or, perhaps, the truth is the burning itself, which is the confluence of flame and tinder, error and desire, attempting and succeeding to be one.  In the end, all we see is the ash, the cinder, but what other proof do we need that once there was a flame?

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