June 3, 2011

Why Poetry?

More than self-expression, poetry is a way of seeing.  Robert Henri, in The Art Spirit, wrote:

"The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture--however unreasonable this may sound. The picture, if a picture results, is a by-product and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past. The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with a brush, pen, chisel or tongue, its result is but a by-product of the state, a trance, the footprint of the state.
These results, however crude, become dear to the artist who made them because they are records of states of being which he has enjoyed and which he would regain. They are likewise interesting to others because they are to some extent readable and reveal the possibilities of greater existence."

Doreen Gildroy presented this quote in an interesting essay ("Poetry and Mysticism," American Poetry Review, May/ June 2011). A "greater existence" is an experience of dissolving boundaries, meaningfulness, or a sudden perception of connectedness; a mystical experience with poetry often comes unbidden, by accident or by grace.  One can invite it, certainly. The state of flow that happens during creative work may be the state of being that Robert Henri describes. Writing is one way to enter a state of flow;  in the state of flow, perceptions shift.  Time goes by without notice.  Focus is enhanced.  The ability to see is increased. 

The poem becomes a record of an experience; it is a dual experience.  The first experience is the subject of the poem, and the second experience is the making of that particular poem.  Each poem offers a new possibility, a new way of seeing, and it engages one in "a making."  In the making of a poem, one finds images, sounds, and patterns that develop and come to fruition.  The plying of the language leads one forward into new insight or image or story.  I like this way of seeing; this is why I write.

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