March 22, 2013

Concerning the Spiritual in Poetry

I've often thought that poetry is a language within the language. A good poem is atomic, essentially indivisible, unchangeable, whole, and irreducible. The use of metaphor and figurative elements, compression, and sound work upon the language in such a way to make it particularly effective and powerful. In poetry, I believe that spirit talks to spirit. Many writers and artists have felt this way.  

Wassily Kandinsky in Concerning the Spiritual in Art writes: "Literature, music and art are the first and most sensitive spheres in which this spiritual revolution makes itself felt."  In his examination of the writer Maeterlinck (Russian), Kandinsky says:
The apt use of a word (in its poetical meaning), repetition of this word, twice, three times or even more frequently, according to the need of the poem, will not only tend to intensify the inner harmony but also bring to light unsuspected spiritual properties of the word itself. . . the word which has two meanings, the first direct, the second indirect, is the pure material of poetry and of literature the material which these arts along can manipulate and through which they speak to the spirit. (Kandinsky, 15-16)
Kandinsky used color as if it were language; color communicated spiritual meaning. But many poets reach for images to do this.

Jane Hirschfield (editor of Women in Praise of the Sacred and Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry) observes women's poetry that is spiritual frequently offers images of the house.  She says: "spiritual fulfillment is not to be found outside the door of the self."  Just as she uses the image of door to express an idea, so do other women writers.  The house can express the self and its boundaries. "To become the authority of one’s own household is no small thing in many women’s lives, even now, and the lives of earlier women poets are almost always marked by some fracturing with the expectations and course of ordinary life. The same is often true for men, of course, especially mystics."

Poetry is not ordinary language--it's extra ordinary. Consider the words of Czeslaw Milosz from his "Ars Poetica":
The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.
The house again serves as metaphor; it is not just the house but our movement in and out, others movement in and out, that enables him to express changefulness. Perhaps poets are architects of language.

Poetry is what we reach for to say what can not be said. It allows silence to speak. This is a spiritual quality. I don't believe that many good poets set out to say something spiritual; sermonizing never makes for a good poem. It will not preach, convert, admonish, or advise.  But a poem might serve as a prayer, an incantation, a song, a cathedral. It celebrates small things: a chicken coop, a red wheel barrow, a dog.

Why write poetry? What is it that drives a person to use this form? Many people avoid it. Poets generally find poetry is not much of a livelihood. Poetry is outside the market, and perhaps that is its value. It is outside of fashion. Its beauty is not the beauty of youth. It is not the big, fancy house in the exclusive neighborhood, but a humble abode.  Instead of a great view, it offers insight. A good poem will always be fresh, even if it was written centuries ago. As Paul Valery said, a poem is a mechanism that recreates the meaning anew each time it is read.

I want to be at home in poetry. I want to sit at the window and look into the branches of a white pine. Birds fly into the limbs, fly out in the rain, in the wind, in the light.

Hirschfield, Jane. "Spiritual Poetry."  June 28, 2006. Poetry Foundation. Web. March 22, 2013.

Milosz, Cseslaw. "Ars Poetica."

Kandinsky, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Translated with an introduction by M.T.H. Sadler. c1977. Dover Publications, New York.

March 14, 2013

Why I Read Anne Carson

I love this poet's work because the boundaries are not fixed. Patterns shift. Formal poems give way to informal. Meaning gives way to language. Poetry gives way to prose. Sources vary. Discourses mix. There is a potluck of essay, fiction, autobiography, poetry. Conventions travel. Cultures blend. Translations err and err again. Words are the stock in trade. Poets conduct raids of other landscapes and lexicons, make forays into art and science and metadata to yield the right friction or energy or fusion.

Anne Carson new book, Red Doc, has this on the book flap:

"To live past the end of your myth is a perilous thing."