The thing about poetry is that I truly don’t know how to write it. I love poetry, I read a lot of it, but when I write it, is it real? Is it actually poetry? My mother cut this out of the paper for me a while ago:
“Poetry is awareness heightened to the point of love,” Mr. [Paul] Roche wrote in 1970 in an essay for the reference work “Contemporary Poets.” “It is a way of apprehending the intensity of being. I try to recreate experience more intensely, reduce it to a luminous whole, render intuitive the meaning and metaphysics of the universe and so feed myself and others with the kernel of being.”
Quite a bit of hooey isn’t it? And yet…
I don’t know why some poetry works and some poetry doesn’t. I don’t know why I read highly acclaimed poetry and find it so enigmatic that I can’t, just, can’t. While other poetry, equally enigmatic, is thrilling. I think it is about heightened senses. Mr. Roche up there was quite the hedonist – apparently calling himself a satyr – and in that passage above, the “awareness heightened to the point of love” and “intensity of being” is possibly about poetry =orgasm. It’s a burst (to push this metaphor beyond taste) of reality, pure and completely in the moment. Well, some of it is. Some is epic. Some poetry is about story, truth or language.
I’m reading the Mark Strand/Eavan Boland book, The Making of a Poem, * and in the first chapter “Verse Forms,” they write, “ Verse forms do not define poetic form: they simply express it…poetic form is not abstract, but human…To understand them fully it is necessary to see how distinct their histories are…And this distinction in turn is the reason that each poetic form has been rediscovered” (3). They go on to say that the sonnet hasn’t had the same resurgence in contemporary poetry as the villanelle because today’s poets like the way a villanelle refrain can shift from light to dark, something that speaks to the overall voice of poetry today. “This is the charm and power of poetic form,” Strand and Boland say, “It is not imposed; it is rooted.”
This may seem really obvious but rootedness is why I think some poems speak to me while others don’t. A poem has to take hold of me with a long tendril that may take root in my ear, but grow through brain and blood and finally set up in my heart. It has to be something that is reminiscent of something I understand almost bodily, as opposed to intellectually. The “meaning and metaphysics” of my universe. In the preface to The Making of a Poem, Boland writes that Blake’s poem, The Tyger had a particularly strong effect on her as a child because she first encountered it when her father read it to her. But not only that; when her father read it to her she was instantly transported to the summer earlier when she was separated from her father at the zoo and while searching for him ran past the pens of the lions and tigers. She was finally found when she heard her father calling for her using a stern almost angry voice. The same voice he used while reading Blake’s poem. Suddenly for Boland, there was a connection, “Form waited for me: waited for more than a hundred years on that page. Waited in cold print and cool and changing paper shapes. Waited to find the child, rather than the other way around.”
“Waited to find the child” – it’s metaphysical – but I do think there is that aspect of a poem lying in wait to find me. It’s crouching there, ready to spring in the perfect moment, that moment when past experience and present reading of the poem merge – no more than merge – recreate experience. And I’m back to Roche:
“Poetry is awareness heightened to the point of love … It is a way of apprehending the intensity of being. I try to recreate experience more intensely, reduce it to a luminous whole, render intuitive the meaning and metaphysics of the universe and so feed myself and others with the kernel of being.”
Without my own past, there is no poem. Without my experience of the world right now, there is no poem and even, at least according to Boland and Strand, no connection to form either.
I’m not sure I’m any closer to understanding poetry today, or even how to write poetry. The only way for me to understand anything is to read and then write about what I’ve just read – and I hope that my understanding of how poetry was/is written will increase this way.
* Strand, Mark and Eavan Boland. The Making of A Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000. Print.