Poetry and an Upstart Crow

I still find myself turning to non-fiction for poetry. Bill Bryson explaining how the Appalachian mountains were formed and keep forming seems somehow more to the heart of poetry than a lot of what I’m finding in the anthologies I take to bed.

I keep wondering if this has something do with the fact that my education, like that of many others, was so colored by deep reading that even Billy Collins had to bitch about it. This frustration of mine is on me.

I’m struggling to unlearn now everything I know about poetry. And I’m still trying to figure out how much a writer can demand of the reader in terms of their curiosity, their efforts to read between the lines, and to hear the subtext in every expressed thought. I mean, I don’t think that poetry should never tell the truth. (Especially when you dress it up in “borrowed feathers” like established poetic diction.)

By all means tell anything you want – except the truth.

I nearly wrote something this morning about what was “behind the greasepaint”. When I was an undergraduate we had old tubes of greasepaint at the bottom of the make-up boxes. Nasty stuff. They were already decades old and none of us touched it except with our fingers, out of curiosity. Any kind of metaphor that doesn’t take the immediate, experiential world into account risks being little more than a self-conscious anachronism. (Oh, but I do remember the… smell.)

All these pretty words – and “shocking”, vulgar words, too – do they give us useful metaphors that takes us deeper into the parallels that exist in our experience, or are they sentimental allusions to help us confirm what we already wanted to see in the moment? I think that my early poetry education was so deeply influenced by the Modernists that literary references themselves masqueraded as art in my mind.

I think we can show the truth, by way of making lies transparent. I am thinking of a fun exercise for myself to play with this idea. Here is the challenge of quick, morning pages: the ideas come like excited puppies, but then like Ruth Stone’s dragons, they’ll slip away between the commute and the lunch break. They’ll move on to someone else.

I want to clear a wall here in my little library and put up a huge board. I’ll pin the edge of these ideas, like insect wings, in neat, taxonomic rows. And the sound of their fluttering (what a soft word for the that kind of struggle) will fill the room. And remind me why I am here.

No. There has to be another way that doesn’t involve capturing the poems. That doesn’t involve torturing the world into shape.

I’ve written before about my Snow White fantasy of talking with the gentle animals of the forest. I think a lot of us have that little dream. But once, on Nara, I held out the rice cakes for the deer on the island, and they rushed at me with their soft snouts and smooth teeth. And for a moment I thought: so this is the way my world will come to an end. Suffocating, deer lice filling my lungs.

The world really isn’t how we think it up.

I think what I want to do as a poet is to make and then fracture poetry somehow, create the cracks where the truth can get out.

Probably because I think that’s what poets have always done. Zoom in. Zoom out.

Look here.

There went the timer.

One Reply to “Poetry and an Upstart Crow”

  1. Year ago or so, bumped into this small college geology teacher whose personal answer to the pandemic was to go on-line & live teaching geology (often right from his backyard). Never thought about the subject much but the man – a funny sort of charisma. So I stayed, week after week. As you began Ren, soon I was seeing the poetry of geology, the many big nuances. (you know, I think my blog title is accurate, not figurative)

    For me too, truth is becoming unfocused, condensed, expansive. Don’t make sense (what sense used to mean to me). I lack a concise statement of what I think – when asked now, mostly I think the answer is “everything”. No justification. Nothing pretty.

    I keep thinking what’s so if I take me out of the equation. What’s left. But, sort of arrogant, cause I am inside, not outside this reality. Messy.

    Maybe the cracks already exist (without our help) and we are just too small, too brief, to really see without letting go of our localized notions about place and self. So yea, the deer like rice cakes. What do we like?


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