July 13th, 2012
Australian writer Geraldine Brooks, who won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2006, said at a talk recently in Aspen, that every morning before she starts to write, she lets the Norton Anthology of Poetry fall open at any page, reads the poem and is all set for her writing session. I think this works because poetry exists at a deeper level than the nitty gritty of our ordinary lives. It's a kind of dream language, and dreamtime is the best place from which to write. To create any art out of. Becuase it connects us to the undercurrent of human experience which is what Carl Jung called The Collective Unconscious. If it comes from anywhere else, if springs from the individual brain and never gets any further, then it becomes the bearer of what Pat Conroy called microscopic epiphanies or what Steinbeck described as litanies in empty churches.
Last night I went to the launch of my friend Karen Chamberlain's posthumously published collection of poetry called "Ephedra."
The body, not the shadow
of feeling, is what I want of memory,
of language, of the yet-unconsummated
marriage of the two. But words, hours,
faces, all pale, crowd into sameness,
and this tedium braces only panic.
Words, especially, seem nothing
but their sum of letters, scattered,
unfocused, like a hundred schoolgirls
giggling and shrieking in uniform
idiocy, running from the shadows
of two dark strangers -
articulate rage, speakable grief.
Poetry has to get you in the gut, not in the exchange of ideas. In our age we have become lost in the zone of ideas. We think, therefore we are. We turn away embarrassed by the depth of things. We have become to fashionable to plummet them.
Here's Dylan Thomas.
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Great poetry, any great art, sets you on a path into the sun. It is a sweet and devastating look into the place you come from and your destination, as well. It is worth the sum total of any religion - just the one line that pierces the human brain and steals into the heart of the matter.
One last poem, though I could go on. It's WB Yeats, who else?
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I have shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
So, Geraldine Brooks is onto something. Before you sit down to write next time, delve into the soul of the poet. Sit down in the cool green shade of it, lean back against the heft of it. There is much to be gleaned there.
(In memory of Karen Chamberlain 1942-2010)