I, for one, intentionally avoid mirrors and unnecessary words but I catch myself, from time to time, falling casually into rhetoric and mimosas sound good on a hot day like today when I’d rather not mow the yard and sneeze all afternoon--wait, what(?)--I was avoiding mirrors and thinking and then the hot day, mimosas, rhetoric, mimetic patterns, the unconscious construction of sentences spoken with phrases like, “I for one,” which “I” already captures and now I’ve used all the unnecessary words too because of a lack of intentionality I wonder where do the days go?
An Essay Doing Nothing on How Poems Do Nothing
I’m reading Russell Edson poems and waiting for the coffee to brew while spring asserts its violent routine into the air like teenagers on Friday night after football games. Where does all that energy come from? Is it generated or stored? What activates it? I know some of us know the answers but really it’s still a great mystery beyond the mechanics of theatre--Deus ex machina!
And how can things such as poetry or theatre, that aren’t really things but ideas, illustrate such meaning? Aren’t these tears real after reading those lines from Bob Hicok’s poem? Yes, salt comes from poetry. Maybe these lines are the thing that activates the thing inside me that reflects from then to now this moment? After all, aren’t we fragments of the sun cooled over time? Isn’t it “all flashes and specks” as Whitman describes? “if they are not flashes and specks, what are they?”
Did you know the ancient Greeks used to argue over the idea of poetry? Many felt that anything that wasn’t specifically representative of the thing was a lie. A thing is a thing and we have words for things. But Plato believed there was something to the idea that a single person can hold two or more contradictory beliefs. Rather and eventually, that the juxtaposition of oppositional images could create harmony if you’re willing to overcome the initial discomfort of cognitive dissonance. We call this metaphor. What if the metaphor is so subtle that it’s not in the images so much as the way these are presented--the dissonance is travelling the rhetoric rather than the images? I love this about Edson’s poems where he presents associative images through unusual rhetoric which makes for fascinating poems. Or, maybe it’s a lie I’ve fought to believe?
Edson calls his poems, “islands of memory surrounded by nothing.” In his poem, “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” from his collection “Buffalo Yoga,” Richard Wright writes, “Like white clouds, our poems drift over it, / looking for somewhere to lie low. / They neither hinder nor help.” Auden famously wrote that, “poetry makes nothing happen.” And Jack Kerouac explains in “Orizaba 210 Blues,” no, it’s in “Washington D.C. Blues,” that, “Poetry is Lamb’s Dust. Poetry is Lamb’s Dust.”
Why do I pursue this lie? What attracts me to the disambiguation of self from place in space (and time (if it exists))? Why believe in words if these are only signifiers and often at the furthest abstraction layer which is metaphor? The poet Robert Hass writes, “a word is elegy to what it signifies,” in his famous poem “Meditation at Lagunitas.”
Maybe because, as Edson writes:
“We ask not necessarily to understand, in fact in most cases we’d rather not, we ask only to believe….Art makes us believe what we cannot understand.”
I think this is as close as I want to come. I do not understand poetry, but I taste the salt.