January 17, 2015

Poetic Space

Can the unexplainable be explained?  Sometimes poetry is defined as the saying of the unsayable.  How? Poetry is powerful because of a union of image and sound and a strange combination of the seen and unseen. When we love a poem, it is because of its resonance or reverberation, a concept examined in The Poetics of Space.

 "A poem possesses us entirely," Gaston Bachelard says.  He says that the poetic image takes root in the reader.  His book is ostensibly about architecture but uses poetry as its metaphor, and in doing so, creates a wonderfully resonant approach to both.

Meena Alexander evokes this resonance. "Poetry and place—if poetry is the music of survival, place is the instrument on which that music is played, the gourd, the strings, the fret." I especially appreciate her thoughts about the importance of place or landscape.

Gaston Bachelard writes that poems awaken our being with their mysterious blend of knowing and not knowing.  A good poem is perpetually new. It has a quality that evokes new meaning every time it is read. "Forces are manifest in poems that do not pass through the circuits of knowledge."  (xxiii) He talks of the passions that perturb poetry, or disturb.

Similarly, Muriel Rukeyser identified poetry as an energy that passes from the writer to the reader. She also viewed a poem as a "theater."  A theatrical space is one that is open to and resonant with image, voice, and action.  The image and reverberation of a poem has the ability to "touch the depths before stirring the surface," according to Bachelard. This is the most poetic explanation of poetry that I've read, and it confirms my theory that poetry dissolves some sort of boundary, and in doing so, it is spirit speaking to spirit.

Literally, poetry has empty space. Lines break before the end of the page, and stanza breaks leave gaps between lines. Patterns are more apparent.  This empty space gestures toward another kind of empty space inside or beyond.  "As essential portion of any artist's labor is not creation so much as invocation. Part of the work cannot be made, it must be received; and we cannot have this gift except, perhaps, by supplication, by courting, by creating within ourselves that 'begging bowl' to which the gift is drawn," says Lewis Hyde in The Gift. Creating gaps or empty spaces in poetry can develop a dialectic or field of meaning.

Bachelard says, "poetry puts language into a state of emergence."  What are these forces? I'm not sure, but I do recognize them when they happen. "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?” asks Emily Dickinson.  I think she must be referring to the physicality, the five senses, and friction. It must be music, myth, memory, and deep patterns in the landscape. We resonate, reverberate, and emerge anew.

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