from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 9 May 2011

Poetry: resisting the intelligence; shirt tails; and swallows

I found some notes to myself on my computer in relation to a blog I had 5 years or so ago. Here is a thought from that:

On poetry

I'm not alone in believing that it is not with the intellect – or at least not with the intellect alone or foremost – that we 'register' and understand a poem.

Indeed, for me the intellect is approximately three steps down the line; and my 'evaluation' of whether a poem is strong enough to live unaided has a lot to do with where it registers in me (I'm talking here of others' poems; it's much harder to sense this with one's own, I think).

The 'registering' is of course a nano-second; but enough to provide a litmus test result. Almost simultaneously with (1) a bodily perception (gut, nape of neck, jolt in chest) will be my (2) feeling-response: an 'ahh' that I can only just hold. I register its kick elsewhere (3), too, in a deeper and nameless place. That's how I know I've read a poem that will change me, however minuscule the change: sometimes only a hair's breadth. 

Then, slower, speed of sound after speed of light, comes my intellectual appreciation; this particular perception deepens and deepens with each reading, and its delight can be repeated, even if that of the other three perceptions can’t always.

I'm reminded of this reading George Szirtes in 'Poetry London' quoting Wallace Stevens as saying that the poem should resist the intelligence almost successfully. I'm pleased with this; I feel vindicated. What I like in a poem is when my intellect only has a poem's shirt-tail to hang on to; or – a different analogy – has to force the door open on trust, seeing only the narrow crack of light at first.

Later on in the same piece, Szirtes adds: 'Meaning in poetry does not work like an intention that might be traced to its source'.

Maybe the wellspring of poetry and that in us that relates to a poem are to be found in the same place: one that I am happy to leave nameless.


And now, time to get back to two things. One is working out how to persuade some new near-neighbours to unblock their eaves and old barn entrance so that the generations of swallows, up to 15 families of them, who nest there each year might do so again. Swallows need to be able to enter into a dark place to nest, unlike house martins; and I saw them swooping in some distress or puzzlement this morning round and round the yard. They return each year to where they were born, and swallows like other migrants have hard it hard lately, with drought in Africa and Europe, and storms in crossing the Atlantic. It's hard to believe that the iconic swallow is on the endangered list... But at least, The Man tells me, the Green Builder mag advertises swallow boxes that one can build into houses.

And the other is putting my mind to the fairly-unending task for the freelance writer of how to conjure the next chunk of income... the only rich poet, financially speaking, is usually a dead one, and a rather large number of living ones went mad (or perhaps they were in the first place)... so when a group tries to book me, as they occasionally do, to talk about 'making a living as a writer' I usually try to steer them in a slightly different direction, as that phrase is a bit of a contradiction in terms. You do it because you would go mad not to. 

And blogging is a good displacement from the 'madness or madness' dilemma.

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