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

Yesterday I went to the arts and crafts supply store. It has been a long time since I’ve splurged on anything but books. I like the word splurge. The onomatopoeia of it. The bursting and slashing out of an outdoor spigot that hasn’t been used in a while. There is something inherently summer-y about it in my mind’s little associative tangle.

Still, it is a big step from purchasing to actual use. Sometimes I get stuck at the sensuous aspects of a freshly sharpened pencil. I want to write the word “poised”, but doing so would ruin the perfect tip, would dull the bright, jagged lines along the tapering wood.

I know this is absolutely related to the more general tendency of clinging in my life. To a moment, to a potential, to the concept of some imminent — amazing — self.

Of course, I’ve no way of knowing, but wonder if this isn’t something women experience more keenly than men through a great deal of our lifetimes? I’m thinking of words like nubile and events like childbirth. The inevitable destruction of life for life. Of beauty for beauty.

It seems to me that embracing dulled pencil-tips, finding beauty in what is worn and smudged and dulled is necessary for me. And not in a “shabby chic” way, aestheticized with filters — physical or conceptual. Not in juxtaposition with the new and slick, setting oneself up for some kind of self-congratulatory appreciation of the “other” that is past. It’s probably not a coincidence that shabby chic became popular about the same time as “ruin photography”. Or even more telling a nomenclature, “ruin porn”.

Adam Alston writes about immersive theater and talks about the difference between an aesthetic experience and an aestheticized experience, where the former is an experience brought on by observing an aestheticized object/event/bit of language, and the latter is the personal, individual experience reflexively acknowledged as the artwork itself. The object/theater performance/poem is only the conduit for the viewer-audience to create art.

The thing is, while aestheticized experience as an art form would democratize art in the extreme, it would (true to Oscar Wilde) simultaneously create a ruthless hierarchy of the inherent worthiness of each individual’s inner life. The artist would no longer be serving a tradition, or mastering a discipline, or channeling a genius (in the Greek daemon sense). They themselves are the genius, and their private un-sharable experience un-manifested in the world is the work of “art”.

In our world obsessed as we are with commodities, this is perplexing.

But beyond that, if the artwork is inherently “un-sharable” then how can we know it is legitimate in terms of expressing the “human” experience. And if all of it is legitimate as art, then art needs to be viewed as entirely subject and therefore any talk of theory, or commodification is absurd.

But is there a culture anywhere really — has there ever been — that doesn’t designate a few members of the community as “artists”? Who are these people? I know I am circling around what other people have spent entire careers questioning. I acknowledge that. And I acknowledge that there is still value in my layman questions and considerations.

Back to Ashton’s distinction of an aestheticized experience. With all due respect to the expert: I have been to see Punch Drunk’s production of Drowned Man several times. I bought a book of photographs of the installations. What I took away from it was an aesthetic experience of the exquisite craftsmanship, the illusions created by the dancers and actors and set designers. The fact that I was immersed in these illusions doesn’t change the fact that it was an aesthetic experience of an objective nature. Yes, theatre often provides the story, but paintings don’t, pottery doesn’t. We always inject our subjective narratives onto artworks. And we can never know if they match the artist’s own.

To be honest, I am not sure where my mind is going with this. What need I’m exploring. What fear.

Look here: this perfectly beautiful sharpened pencil. How can I possibly create something worthy of wearing that point? Of dulling that wood?

Isn’t that the fear? The pressure of aesthetics? A misunderstanding of aesthetics? Is the appreciation of kintsugi just a form of Orientalism on my part? Or is it an authentic longing for something?

And why in the hell is that even a question I am asking myself?

in my coffee mug
a thin layer of tiny
air bubbles floating
on the surface broken
by void-embryos morphing