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Monday, September 25, 2017

A Short Listicle About Poetry

More and more I realize I have a fundamental problem accepting the prevailing pieties of modern American poetry.  Not only that but it seems as if my own ideas about poetry are not welcome within the mainstream of the American poetry community.  I call this my Don Share problem.  (Don Share, for those of you who don't know, is the highly regarded editor of Poetry magazine.)  I've tried sharing my views with Don and his response was short and sweet - he blocked me from his Twitter account so I can no longer so much as view either his poetic or prosaic tweets.

In response to this later day form of digital excommunication, I've put together this short listicle that sets forth a few of my own ideas about poetry, which I hope may serve as counter-programming to one of American poetry's most prominent gatekeeper's more widely held beliefs:

  1.   Poetry is not a religion; a poem is not worthy or due reverence for the words it uses or as   a sonorous thing in itself. 

2.     A poem is no more than an embodiment of what a “poet” happens to be thinking and feeling at any given moment.

3.     Although poetry is not a religion, writing and reading a poem may be or become an integral part of a person’s spiritual practice or life.   The same is true of any creative activity.  It is the activity of writing and sharing a poem that is endowed with spiritual significance far more than the poem itself.

4.     Poems are expressive not constitutive of meaning.  There is little or no difference between a poet and a poem.  

5.     All poems are provisional and experimental; they may be finished but never really complete.  Words are leaky vessels by their very nature inadequate when it comes to capturing or retaining experience, which is fleeting, and our life’s deepest meanings.

6.     The more truthful a poem the more it acknowledges its own fallibility; the less recited and anthologized the better.  Even a great poem may be considered wrongheaded and disposable similar to any other form of everyday speech.

7.     The lilt of a poet’s voice may be a dangerous thing.  (This applies especially to a great poet like you Dylan Thomas!)

8.     Language is not the solution but part of the problem we humans face; poems can help us to the extent that they make us more aware of the limitations of language instead of seducing us into believing the meaning we find in words or sounds can actually exceed what we are far more likely to encounter in silence’s depth.  

These views, I might add, are not exactly my own.  They have evolved out of my regular practice of translating classical Chinese poetry.  To that extent they represent my attempt to distill and express a theory of poetry and poetics, which is derived from a way of thinking about language, metaphor and meaning that may be quite unfamiliar to those of us reared in the western tradition, but nonetheless may prove extremely rewarding as an alternative path.  

Those of you who are interested in learning more about classical Chinese poetry can click here to sign up for a free subscription to my Tang Spirit newsletter, where the ideas behind this listicle are explored at more length.

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