Life Disassembled

Promising myself to read the news a day late from now on. By then I figure what is not true will be caught out, or by then the “truth” will be irrelevant but the consequences real. Either way, I have no need to be on the front lines of information. I’ve no expertise in sorting, or in contextualizing all of these perspectives. Don’t mistake this for apathy.

Being cautious is also an act of compassion.

But after this morning, witnessing E. dealing with a transient physical pain, after hearing him curse and watching him shudder. I have been thinking about pains. There is evidence that the brain registers different kinds of pain as overlapping, neurological patterns in the brain. A stubbed toe. Hurt feelings. And I would argue shame is also a form of pain. Our language isn’t a coincidence. Our metaphors may not be logical, but they are not arbitrary.

I’ve also heard that our brain can only process one pain source at a time. The left toe. The lower back, etc. But I’m pretty sure this is a myth. I asked E. today if he wanted me to stomp on his toe to distract him from his pain. He declined.

Even if there is a scientific fact here – on a molecular level – our consciousness is slow and sticky. And certainly, heartache doesn’t disappear with a stomachache. Because the ache in the heart is not a metaphor when it is in the body and not projected onto a scene in a poem.

I’ve spent a couple of weeks trying to sort out a response to my son’s question about visual poetry, “What is poetry, then?” I’ve been struggling with it, drawing, diagramming. Constructing Rube Goldberg machines.

I thought poetry is the vehicle that transfers the memory of experience from one human to another. It’s about recognition and community. An art object with a social function.

But what about improvisational arts? Where the vehicle is conjured, in concert with the receiver, with no intention on the part of the artist? The artist is a facilitator and the experience is immediate, not re-constructed. This, too.

So is poetry also a verb? One that describes the activity in the moment the receiver recognizes her own experience as kin to that of the artist. And vice versa. We know what it is to be the human-animal right now. Under the language. Under the intellect. Our bodies come into our awareness, as their own form of intelligence. The body/mind, whose own language is entirely unintelligible to our thinking mind.

We may as well be watching/hearing/feeling bees buzz. And allowing ourselves to just sit with it. No close reading. No critical analysis. Those are elements of the autopsy.

Poetry is a secret door to the truly surreal. Poetry is the anti-conceptual experience.

This is why, in my mind, poetry is no more defined by beauty or order than a painting is defined by “green”.

I always take the long way around to find the same basic ideas in everyone else’s manifestos. At least nearly the same. I am convinced that the greatest human need is belonging, precisely because our greatest human reality is our isolation from one another. Language brings us close – poetry brings us close – but just as the like poles of magnets can never truly align, neither can we. There is tension there. Here. This is also a deep truth we recognize in our bodies.

The bottom drops out on us sometimes. Or – maybe more often – we are standing next to someone when it drops out from under them, and we feel it. We make the leap despite all that repels us from one another: an understanding and a recognition that, as soon as we put it into words and images, is gone: sucked up into tropes – dead symbolism.

Poetry is the death of itself and the source of itself.

Beautiful, and absolutely not beautiful.

2 Replies to “Life Disassembled”

  1. What a fabulous post. It somehow parallels this whole substance vs form debate that always rages in my head. And my absolute belief that art doesn’t have to be beautiful, maybe shouldn’t even be beautiful, because most of reality isn’t beautiful at all but cruel and ugly. Art needs to be real. And there’s an argument for saying improvised art is the most real form of all. But all generalisations are false. My favourite kind of poetry is that which sits on the page and which allows the reader his or her own voice in his or her head, and which leaves the ultimate interpretation (or visceral reaction) up to that reader. I wrote a poem about this a few weeks back which I will try to dig out at some point.


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