Desire Love The Visible Reality The Poem
I hope this is helpful, or at least interesting. It will be in two parts. This is part one. Part two, if it ever actually happens, will be later. I, perhaps rashly, put in a course title for this coming fall, which is Poetry As Mystery, now I’m trying to work up how I will actually present such an unwieldy thing. I’m brainstorming.
I’m interested, currently, less in the compositional process from blank paper, than I am the compositional process of revision. That seems to me a profitable place to think about mystery. It’s obvious that there’s mystery to a blank piece of paper, but usually in the revision process we hear words like “clarity,” etc. “Clarity” is a great word, as it reveals “clarity of design,” but I think rather than that, “clarity” usually gets reduced to “Make it Clear” in the Lowest Common Denominator of public speech sort of way. “Make it Clear?” I look around me, and, though the images of the yard are “clear,” they are not in any way “clearly meaning” one thing, they simply are, and in their beingness, they contain large amounts of mystery. Mystery of human interaction, mystery of simply being there at all. So how does one keep oneself open to such mystery, without it being a trick or a who-done-it? Or, equally problematic, how to factor in the true difficulty of being without falling into aphasia? The two sides equally threaten, as one tries to negotiate, in some honest way, the mystery inherent in living.
If the primary composition of a poem is a journey of discovery, then, in some ways, revision (though still hopefully discovering things along the way) is more concerned with setting the poem, with maintaining the poem. Desire & love, perhaps. In this way, it’s interesting to think about what the world is, or how the world reveals itself to artists, so that whatever discovery or journey the poem has taken, or is taking, can be placed back into that world, to become a full thing of that world, not simply an image of it, or a reflection of it.
Toward that, what I’m going to do is to link together many statements on the artistic impulse, and then try to talk my way through them. My hope is that what rises is a general sense of the thing, and not one directed to one way of actually producing an art object, so that I may get something of the stance for as many possible manifestations of art as I can. This, therefore, will be rather general, but it’s the gesture in which I’m interested, not necessarily the end product. Not what to write, but how the action occurs. I’m not sure of it’s going to work.
So how does the world manifest itself, generally, to artists? For me, the primary method poems have of composing themselves is through the visual. There are other ways to think of this, but for me the visual is convenient, as it allows me to use many quotes from visual artists, who are, by and large, very good on this subject.
THE VISUAL/ THE VISIBLE
“The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.”
So what is “real” is something more than what is visible. I think we’d all agree with that to some degree. But then:
“There comes a moment... When imagination gives out and Reality leaps forth. It is frightful!”
—Edgar, in Strindberg, Dance of Death.
So what is this fright? This fright of the primary encounter with “Reality” after one has taken “the visible” into one’s imagination? This moment of discovering the first cause. So one looks at one’s poem and one asks it questions, through looking at an object (define it your way), abstracted into the imagination until “Reality” leaps forth. So one writes something that gives one the shock of the new reality, and asks, “OK, so I’ve said this thing, in what way does it relate to turning back to the world?” Is this a primary encounter or am I just making things up? And in what way is it more than just “the visible” reflected? Where is the essence?
“What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things . . . it is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface.”
But yet the visible is the base, here. And upon this we have to conduct, to reveal, a reality. So when we’re looking at our poems we have to ask if the images we’re presenting are allowing the base of the visible to become reality. Distorted from the simply visible then, into the essence of something more.
“That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity — that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty.”
And what is the distortion? It’s the mystery of being in time that we bring to what is flat to our eyes. It is the essence that comes to us in competing waves from the simply seen. It is the words themselves, and the denotative and connotative aspects of those words that arrive in competing waves with that to which the words refer. And in this way, I think, it becomes a project of inscribing the world back onto the world, by flaring it back up into its existence.
“The visible is how we orient ourselves. It remains our principal source of information about the world. Painting reminds us of what is absent. What we don’t see anymore.”
— SQUEAK CARNWATH
So perhaps it’s only a distortion because we’ve allowed ourselves to become complacent with the world we inhabit. We’ve worn our seeing into the taken for granted, so that the artist must reintroduce us to ourselves. It’s as true for poets as it is for painters. So perhaps “distortion” doesn’t bend away from reality as it bends away from the visual, but toward a higher reality, some essence of things. So that this next movement is possible, or potential:
“There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.”
Is this true? That the world we possibly see becomes that world through the mediation of it having been inscribed by one’s imagination? It’s our conceptions of the thing (through attention to the visible) that become the thing? In physics it’s called the observer effect, I believe. So we take this back to our poems, right? This tension between the visible and that which we intuitively feel must be within it. Even the Imagists had to admit that much. So then we revise, and we want to revise toward reality, toward the mystery that is living in the world. And we have to be reminded of this:
“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
— OSCAR WILDE
And so we revise toward images that reveal more than what they simply present. And this is, finally a tonal issue. What is the feel of the thing? How is it meaning itself? Images that arrive in their reverberations, so that the poem will have a balance between Image & Disclosure. Image=The thing seen. Disclosure=The thing said.
And this journey of attending the visible so that it turns wobbly until it snaps back into clarity transformed into Reality will take a different spin for each of us, as we attend with different, though hopefully complementary, imaginations, because the fullness of being in time has to be larger than that one poem or painting, but that one poem or painting, can, as a prism, suggest that fullness.
That sounds like a worthy goal, and a decent way of conceptualizing it, but, I have to admit, on a daily basis, more than a little daunting. Anyway, we still have our goals, and the desire that is the creative force and the love that is the maintaining force to help us toward those goals.
That. Or something like that.