Visceral Understanding

I have an odd pile of books on my desk this morning. Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Inconspicuous Consumption: The environmental impact you don’t know you have. How to Love a Country. Langston Hughes – Selected Poems. The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Diary.

There are nine other books and a rhyming dictionary also piled on. I need to sort through my shelves again. And I seriously need to stop buying books for a while. All the things I would love to do with my time. More reading. Perhaps reviewing. Certainly celebrating the poets I love. Deciding what projects to take on can be overwhelming. And there is fitting it into a life with a day job that can suck the joy right from the source at times.

Books make me feel less alone. Less peculiar. I have noticed that when I feel isolated and lonely, I go on book-buying sprees. Every book is a potential: this one will save me. I blame it on my religious upbringing: The Word is God. The answers are in the scripture. When every adult around you is an idiot, there is a near-ancient authority that has left riddles to be untangled.

There is hope, here: on the page. In the verses that sing.

I’m taking a course on visual poetry right now and am fascinated by asemic poetry. I am surprisingly drawn to it. Moved by it. After spending years studying formal poetry and analyzing poems with a chair and a rubber hose (despite Billy Collin’s objections), I am finding an instinctive satisfaction in holding the handwriting up to the light. Acknowledging the humanity, the creative mind present. The philosopher Denis Dutton said that one of the universal criteria for art is evidence of individual expression. Another is craftsmanship. Another is that the work is somehow imbued with emotion.

And in my mind poetry is the leap we make between the poet’s material expression and the poet’s subjective experience that demanded expression. In other words, all poetry is itself a meta-metaphor: the poem is the vehicle and the poet’s subjective experience is the tenor. And it seems to me that if we recognize this vehicle/tenor without putting it into words (creating new metaphors), then we are perhaps communicating in a more directly visceral way.

People have worked for years trying to decipher the Voynich manuscript because we recognize the human hand. We have this feeling that there is something important here. If someone were to ever unlock the code (if there is one) it would no doubt be anti-climatic. Our intellectual evaluation of the work would suck the joy right out of the visceral experience. We would lose the emotional connection with the artist by creating an intellectual one. One step removed.

Let’s not know. Let’s let the mystery be.

E.’s mother tongue is not English, and often when he reads my poetry he says: It sings so beautifully. Sometimes he has no idea what the ten-letter words mean. Sometimes I have leaped too far between vehicle and tenor the metaphor is lost. But it sings.

That matters.

I am, however, not convinced that I can unlearn everything I have worked so hard to more-or-less master. I have been thinking that surely someone has already studied this with regard to the modernists. I am sure there are books on my shelf now that I would better understand were I to dive in now and read them again.

But I’m not going to. I’m going to stay here with the visceral, practical work. I’m going to move my hand over paper and play. And look at all the beautiful evidence of humanity on display.

A circle with lines
radiating from a center
and I understand
she feels the sun on her skin
and knows how to tell me this

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  1. Asemics. I didn’t know there was a word for it. It’s a fascinating concept with visual appeal–and a kind of mystery. I can think of some examples now I know what it is. Cool!

    • There is an interesting group I lurk in on Facebook for asemic work: https://www.facebook.com/groups/76178850228

      As I understand it – the term was coined in the 90s?
      I follow an artist who said she has always called it “intuitive writing” and says that her version “means” something, so it isn’t strictly asemic. But I think that is is an oversimplification. I think asemic “means” something – it certainly conveys emotion and intelligence and intension, right?

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