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The Journey to the West

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Poetry - Plain Spoken or Not

Matthew Zapruder (a poet I admire very much) has written a good piece in the New York Times about the central importance of the literal or plain spoken-ness when it comes to poetry.  This seems so obvious to me as to not require much discussion, but such is the state of modern poetry, in the hands of its academic minders, that it must be rescued from the clutches of over-artfulness and obscurantism.  As with most other types of writing, there is no better place for a poet to start than with the willingness to speak clearly and directly.  Thank you Matthew for reminding us that poetic truth can and should be plain spoken whenever possible.

For me, though, there’s an important corollary to Zapruder’s first principle.  Just as a poet must embrace the value and importance of literal truth, a poet should also recognize that words alone are limited in their power and capacity to convey some of life’s deepest and most important meanings.  That is to say, spiritual truth very often leads us swiftly into the realm of the ineffable – a place where silence more than poetry holds sway.   If nothing else this corollary should impose a little restraint on every poet’s worst tendency, which is to fall in love with the sonorous possibilities of one’s own voice.

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I have more to say about this.  But as someone who has come to believe very much in the sanctity of Emptiness and Nothing, I’ll try to keep my commentary brief.  That’s precisely why I’ve decided to call my new book (still a work in progress) The Little Book of Nothing.

You can sign up below to subscribe to my email newsletter where I will be publishing excerpts from this work as it takes shape.  The section I’ll be publishing is called The World in Translation and, among other things, it includes an introduction to Tang Poetry and an explanation of why Chinese poetics provide such a powerful “new” approach for us to think about life, language and art, an invaluable alternative to the way we in the west usually think about these things. 

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Dolmens speak of time and words forgotten
In starlight sweeping across the heavens
And the lamplight that flickers and dims
Words elide and worlds collide
Photographs curl at their edge
And fall into desuetude
But it’s the endless waves
Of wind water and light
That propagate and proclaim
To petrel and porpoise alike

Not in things themselves
But in the undulation unceasing
There we'll find unity and perpetuity
Neither in what is or is not there
But in the Nothing that remains

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