inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #76 of 140: William F. Stockton (yesway) Tue 4 Oct 11 10:38
    
Ooops!

The thing I think is new and different that is changing the way poetry
is perceived is Youtube and the other internet avenues to hearing and
seeing poetry "performed". Performance/Slam poetry seems to be changing
the public's understanding of the place of poetry in our culture quite
rapidly. I'm curious to know how this affects poets who follow the
more traditional pattern of publishing and reading in person. 
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #77 of 140: those Andropovian bongs (rik) Tue 4 Oct 11 10:44
    
Bill, thank you.   I've been looking to get the first half of that quote 
right for years, but had it attributed, in my mind, to Aaron Copland.

I can nitpick exceptions to it, but I think that it's quite true, in 
general.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #78 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Tue 4 Oct 11 11:44
    
It's good to hear that from a knowledgeable musician, thanks, rik. 
Great comments and questions!  I'm looking forward to seeing what our
poets have to say in response, although I believe they are both tied up
with readings and related events at the moment.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #79 of 140: therese (therese) Tue 4 Oct 11 12:17
    
I've been slow to purchase these two new volumes of poetry, as I'm
adjusting to the local Border's shutting down, and have yet to make my
way to Women and Children First, an independent bookstore here in
Chicago. I was going to purchase them on Amazon, but I feel the need to
connect to a bricks and mortar store. I want a place where I can
browse...I believe that's how I've found half of everything I love. It
also gives me an opportunity to request the books, should they not be
on the shelves.

I have had the chance to read the poems you've posted here, and some
that have appeared on various sites. I love, love, love, Three-legged
Blues. It sings...and then to hear it put to music is perfect! Thanks
for sharing the link with us, Jane.

Mary, I can't wait to dive into your poems. I love the richness of
place they evoke. 
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #80 of 140: Mary Mackey (mm) Tue 4 Oct 11 13:39
    


Thanks, therese. I think the point about a poem having two forms: written
and spoken is right on the mark. Actually, I see poetry as a continuum.
The most ancient poetry came before writing and literacy. In many ways
poetry was invented as a memory device. All of Beowulf, for example, had to
be (and was)memorized. In written form, it's 176 pages long. Without the
rhythm and the alliteration, it would be almost impossible to rememeber. Of
course, that is not to say that this was the only reason poetry was
invented. It also has a long history as invocation, worship, inspiration,
and song.

So here is the continuum as I see it: on one end, poetry that can really
only be spoken, poetry that either does not read well or simply does not
come across on the page. At the other end, poetry that can't be read in any
way that work. For example take the graphic poem "Shasta Peaks Covered With
Snow" by Michael P. Garofalo. It only contains 5 words repeated over and
over which tells you almost nothing about the poem. You have to see it to
realize that the words form the shape of Shasta peaks. You can see it here:

http://tinyurl.com/3gcb6my

In the middle are the kinds of poems Jane and I write. Each poem is really
two poems: the one you read on the page and the one you hear. I find the
differences between the two versions of the same poem fascinating, and when
I am writing a poem I try to take both into account by both seeing and
hearing the poem at the same time. I can't speak for Jane, but in essence I
am always writing two poems at once.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #81 of 140: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Tue 4 Oct 11 21:08
    
Once again, it's late in Massachusetts... over 400 people came to the
reading tonight, rather startling me--and a very moving audience they
were. I've heard sailors speak of a boat as being tuned. That is how
this audience felt--responsive and alive and collaborative. Some of
them had come when I last read here, five years ago, and commented to
me during the booksigning afterward about the differences of the two
experiences. And some had never been to any poetry reading before.

Jennifer, to address your comment about rhyme... this new book does
have more visible rhyme, but I've used what I've called "wandering
rhyme' in my work from the beginning--the poem "Heat," from Of Gravity
& Angels, was pulled into existence by sound energies and internal
rhyme--and that poem I think was written in 1980 or 1981. Often since,
especially in the middle of a month at an artists colony, I enter a
stage where language itself is drawing the poem into being--which is
how rhyme feels. Perhaps it's akin to a front wheel drive vs a rear
wheel drive car, if that makes any sense, these two ways of writing.
There are always four wheels, but different ones are conveying the
prime impulsion. 

With this book, there was perhaps a stronger run of those poems. There
are also more poems that are more visibly comic. I change, and the
poems change... but it wasn't the rhyme that felt risky about "I Ran
Out Naked..." I think it was the simple first person exposure of it. "I
wanted more..." I don't usually speak that directly, and it was
perhaps hard to trust that the way the poem spoke made it enough to be
a poem. It is so simple--that rawness was the risk. Someone said they
overheard someone at one of the readings say to their friend, "That's
autobiographical, you know." Well. Who wants to run around naked in
public, if they aren't three years old or an exhibitionist?

Carol was quite right in saying that rhyme can be headlong, a runaway
horse. I learned long ago, to my shock, that rhyme can cause you to say
things that sounds good, but are not the real truth of the thing. An
ethical problem, for a writer, I think--an easy path that feels to me
quite wrong to take. I learned after that to look carefully at the
sound-driven poems, to ask: do I stand behind what these words say? You
have to be willing to throw out the beautiful lie, if it is not a lie
that serves as an even deeper window into the real. As Bill said of
lyrics of song, the music can disguise, as well as expand, and it can
be hard to sort the one thing from the other and judge--especially when
music and meaning are inextricable from one another, when the music
makes the meaning in no small part.

Keta, I have been fascinated by the question you raised--what did
literacy add to the oral tradition that came first? The long answer is
the eighth chapter of Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry--an essay
I wrote to probe that very question. The short answer: complexity,
subtlety, self-questioning, some flavors and strategies of thought that
could not exist when thought lived only by what could be held in the
mind by memory and sound. 

Hermes, the Trickster, is the inventor of writing in every culture,
and all that goes with that increasingly self-reflexive mind. Literacy
added to--but didn't replace--the powers of oral poetry, the way
certain churches are built over the foundations of earlier churches
which were built over the sacred earlier site of a spring or sacred
cave or dream...

If this all sounds terribly academic, forgive me. That essay was
terribly dense, but through it I came to feel I understood some things
about poetry I had never articulated before--about the powers of oral
memory and the powers of complicating literate mind as well, and what
each brings to the feast-board of what can be said, and how, which
poetry is. 
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #82 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Tue 4 Oct 11 22:31
    
Well, "terribly academic" is an oxymoron for me, but as far as I can
tell, you weren't at all.  Those analogies are marvelous and spot on,
too.  I'd forgotten about the internal rhymes in "Heat" -- they do
convey through sound the very sense of being driven the poem describes.

I've said before that I trust poetry to tell me the truth.  It would
be more accurate to say I trust the poems that ring true for me, and
that what I trust them to do is tell me *a* truth, one I didn't know
before, or didn't know I knew.  Part of the work of sound, it seems to
me, is to bring that heightened awareness down to the sensory level,
where I can feel as well as think about what is being said.

Humor seems at least as tricky as rhyme to me.  It can be a means of
keeping perspective, of balancing and integrating contradictions, and
of connecting to others, but it is easy to hide behind, when one is
feeling exposed.  Does it ever run away with you; do you have to watch
it closely and stand ready to throw out the clever joke?
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #83 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Tue 4 Oct 11 22:41
    
I should have specified that that question was aimed at Mary as well. 
 (By the way, I love the lenticular clouds in that link you posted.) 
Marvelous expositions on the history of poetry from both of you too,
thanks!
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #84 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 5 Oct 11 02:18
    
(The end of #82 should be "clever lie", not "clever joke".) 
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #85 of 140: Rip Van Winkle (keta) Wed 5 Oct 11 10:00
    
Wonderful answers and comments!
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #86 of 140: Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 5 Oct 11 17:12
    

Jane, I'd be interested to know if your poems come to you initially as an
image, a phrase, or in some other form. Mine usually come as rhythmic bits
of sentences that repeat themselves in my head or as very clear images.

As a side note: I've written about how much of the visionary moments in my
poems and novels have their origins in the very high fevers I've run ever
since I was a small child. As I think I said earlier, this is one of the
reasons why the title of my previous poetry collecition was "Breaking The
Fever." Something I don't believe I've mentioned is that when I have a
temperature between 105 degrees and 107, I start speaking in rhymed
couplets. I have no idea why I do this, I can't control it, and it tends to
scare everyone around me. On occasions, I have done this for several hours
at a time. When the fever breaks, those rhythms cease and I stop speaking in
rhyme. I've talked to several neurophysiologists about this, not as a
patient, but as friends, and none of them knows exactly why this happens. I
think the highest fever I've ever run is a little above 107. People can go
into convulsions at this level, but I've been lucky. Perhaps I experience a
kind of convulsion of poetry. I should add that I am always in a very good
mood when this happens. I laugh, I tell jokes, I reassure the people who are
running around trying to keep me from going over the brink. It's a pleasant
experience, but not one I'd seek out on purpose.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #87 of 140: William F. Stockton (yesway) Wed 5 Oct 11 17:44
    
Well allrighty then! Just goes to show you that HST was right.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #88 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 5 Oct 11 19:20
    
!!!

I remember reading that story before.  I think it was when you were in
Inkwell to talk about the book.  For Well members, it's topic #287,
and here's a link for general readers:

http://www.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue/topics/287/Mary-Mackey-Breaking-the-Fever
-page01.html
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #89 of 140: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Wed 5 Oct 11 19:51
    
Mary, that is worthy of study, truly... though I suppose the last
thing you'd want to do while running a 107 degree fever is slip into an
fMRI machine. 

Are they ever really good rhymed couplets? Do you ever try to see if
they might make a poem? Or is it more like the way that if a person
reads enough Elizabethan sonnets he or she suddenly begins speaking
iambic pentameter, but isn't, alas, Shakespeare or Donne?

For Jennifer's question of facile jokes, I'm not natively funny enough
for that to be a risk. I have met people for whom it is--it's almost a
kind of Tourette's: their first response to anything is to turn a pun
or say something witty. For me, that is funny at first, but ultimately
distancing. To be able both to be funny and to keep a tender heart is
the thing...  

There's a line in passing in "Come, Thief" about this very thing, in
the poem "Critique of Pure Reason"- "as wit increases distance and
compassion erodes it." I didn't think this idea up, it's something I've
read in humor theory, that humor is basically transgressive,
aggressive, "cold."  That if the person slipping on the banana peel is
your frail grandmother, it's not funny, but if it's your boss, it is.
But the comic need not always be cold, of course... humor can also be
liberating, bonding, encouraging. It can bring vulnerability into the
room. Trickster is the agent of change, and sees the cracks in any
reified thing. But here I am, speaking so seriously about humor--Mary's
written two comic novels, under her Kate Clemens pen name.  I wish I
could be funnier more often. And I wish our politics had more room for
humor--in the writers conference, someone just brought up Eddie Izzard,
and I remember reading about a South African cross-dressing comic who
is changing the culture by going around saying the truth in the most
surgical ways--he could say things under apartheid that no one else
could, and not be arrested. I want a dozen more of those for this
country, please. We have an awful lot going on here that could use some
seriously funny deflation. But also a lot to just plain weep about.

To answer Mary, my poems come in many different ways, but the most
usual is that words just begin to speak themselves in me, and I listen
and write them down. It is "thought," but thought that comes shaped and
informed by music, by feeling, by a mind that has a very different
gait and grasp and eye and ear than my regular, daily mind does. I hear
the words (though silently, not as a hallucination), the way you can
listen to your own voice with a certain kind of awareness, the way a
singer might cup one hand over one ear to hear herself singing... and
the quality of listening changes the voice. 

"Voice"--that's a word we all hear in creative writing workshops or
find in critical writing--but the last time I looked in a Websters,
there was no definition of "voice" that reflected that use of it. I
think of it as the fingerprint of the artist's mind, body, and spirit,
on and in the words. I know a poem is possible when the mind's voice
shifts into that way of being. I recognize it when it comes, or in the
moments before it comes by a kind of kinesthetic shift. Sometimes I
hear only a rhythm--but usually it comes in words. Sometimes the rhythm
is there and not the words--and then I leave a gap marked, [        ],
and come back to fill it. I'll know I need, say, a four syllable word,
but I won't know what it is. I'll come back later to find it:
"imperative"? "imperial"? "infinitude"? I'll know it when I see
it--"Ah, there it is!" The music and the meaning will both have to be
right, which means both right and perhaps a little surprising, a little
modulating and somehow adding, the way a good and surprising cook like
Eric Gower might add some citrus peel and pink peppercorn to his sea
salt... and then the word slips into place like the piece of a jigsaw
puzzle you knew was in the pile somewhere, but had to find. 

(I'm going to disappear now for another day--I flew home from
Massachusetts today, but I give a workshop and reading tomorrow in San
Jose. Le Petit Trianon theater, should anyone want to come.)
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #90 of 140: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 5 Oct 11 20:16
    
From off-WELL reader saraschierhanson@gmail.com:

Just some thoughts for mulling upon this topic of poetry--Shakespeare
used rhyme in his plays to note social distinctions. Interestingly the
nobles most often speak in rhyme while the commoners don't. Magical
characters and the mad also speak in rhyme. Ariel the nature spirit in
The Tempest always sings her words. The Tempest, is however, a play
where the the social order is in flux as the commoners speak in rhyme
and the nobles speak like commoners.
 
Second thought: are we drawn to poetry because it connects with deep
memory of the sing- song way and lilting pattern with which people
speak to babies?
 
Third thought: perhaps we need many styles of verbalizing just as the
birds have many songs.
 
 I am pondering Jane's audience of 400 on Tuesday night. That is a
very large audience. People came I am sure for the love of good poetry,
but I am wondering why this love of poetry at all? Evening musings.
Thanks
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #91 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Thu 6 Oct 11 12:24
    
Wonderful comments, thanks!
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #92 of 140: Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 7 Oct 11 11:57
    

Sara, you're asking profound questions which deal with the origins of song
and speech as well as the origins of poetry. I'm not qualified to say
whether or not poetry comes from the songs we sing to babies, but it seems
like an intelligent speculation.

Jane asked if my fever rhymes were good poetry. I have no idea because I'm
always too sick to write them down and everyone else is too upset because
they think I might die. All I can say is that they are in iambic pentameter,
they're couplets, and they delight me as well as take me over.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #93 of 140: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 7 Oct 11 12:19
    
Sara, I also love your perceptions in that post...

I have been thinking--because I thought I was doing an interview
yesterday that got cancelled because it was a heavy news day, as it
turned out--about "why poetry at all", and my current guess is that it
is the longing we feel for profound connection in an age of
speed-dating thought, of tweets and texts and emails over hastily
written, of phone calls on the run, and too few long conversations with
dearest of friends; an age of relentlessly heavy news days. Poems'
lines are quick, compressed, yet the opposite of speedy. Even in slower
times, poems offer a place to stop, to feel more deeply, to think more
freely and permeably. In times of transition--and for ritual moments,
weddings and funerals--we want poems to be there to say what is harder
to say with spontaneous thought. A good poem is a well of words that
holds deep time, deep consideration. It is--to try on a different
metaphor-- thought buffed and waxed to greater capacity for reflection.
And in catastrophe, a certain solitude surrounds a person, which a
poem can break through. A poem can feel like a hand touching yours in
the dark. The only touch bearable at such a moment, yet desperately
needed.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #94 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sat 8 Oct 11 00:29
    
Yes, exactly, beautifully said, Jane.  Mary, your experiences with
high fever called to my mind the movie "Yes".  The entire script is
written in iambic pentameter couplets, and the amazing thing is how
natural it sounds, partly due to the skill of the writer, director, and
actors, no doubt, but also perhaps because of something inherent in
the language and our love of patterns.

It is worth remembering that poems could not do their work if they
were not brought to public awareness.  Authors and readers alike depend
on well-written reviews to connect.  Both Mary and Jane have been
getting them, and if you'd like to see for yourself, here are a couple
of the best, first of Mary's and then of Jane's:

http://synchchaos.com/?p=5222

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/poetry-review-come-thief-by-
jane-hirshfield/2011/06/15/gIQAGCZSVK_story.html

Also, for readers here who may not have an opportunity to attend
readings, I've found videos of our poets in action.  I haven't managed
to locate one of Jane reading work from Come, Thief, but I'll post a
link to another recent reading instead. The first one has Jane reading
an older poem, "Ripeness" from The October Palace, and the second is of
Mary reading "Medusa" from Sugar Zone:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HueMZ3wb0c&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5FX3MEg0VA&feature=youtu.be
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #95 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sat 8 Oct 11 00:56
    
Awhile back, Jane mentioned the collaboration that sometimes occurs
between writer and audience at these readings.  That reminded me of a
quote another Well friend of mine drew to my attention recently.  I'm
not in the business myself, but I'd be interested in what our writers
might have to say on the subject:

"Way down, close to the bottom of the list of the evils individualism
visits on our culture is the fact that in the modern era it isn't
enough to write; you must also be a Writer and play your part as the
protagonist in a cautionary narrative in which you will fail or
triumph, be in or out, hot or cold. The rewards can be fantastic; the
punishment dismal; it's a zero-sum game, and its guarantor of value,
its marker, is that you pretend to play it solo, preserving the myth
that you alone are the wellspring of your creativity."

--Tony Kushner, "With a Little Help from My Friends"

Was there ever an era in which it was "enough to write"?  Kushner is a
playwright and screenwriter, so his work cannot be performed without
collaboration, but do his words hold truth for you as poets as well? 
If so, I'm curious about who, other than your audiences, your
collaborators are (in a general sense--not digging for personal
information).
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #96 of 140: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 8 Oct 11 09:28
    
I think Tony Kushner one of the great geniuses of our time, but I
disagree with the bulk of that quote... For a poet I believe it is
"enough to write," and publication and "the market" are, and must be,
optional. As you so wisely say, Jennifer, he's a playwright, and
playwrights, like composers, require others and also a public to see
their work realized. I'd also guess (Mary?)it would be pretty unusual
for a novel to be written for totally private purposes. But poets don't
always write for others' eyes. They might, they might not--but as
Yeats famously said, an argument with others is rhetoric, poetry is the
argument with oneself. Many of the great women mystic poets of 11-13th
century Europe (I'm thinking here especially of the two we know as
Hadewijch I and Hadewijch II, not Hildegard, who was in fact often
writing for the community of nuns of which she was abbess) left their
words behind in journals. They weren't giving readings, they weren't
publishing. Their audience may well have been God--no small
audience--but it wasn't the market. The poets we know about usually
sent their poems at least to friends--Emily Dickinson put many, though
far from all, of hers in her letters, and the Japanese poet monk Ryokan
sent his to a younger nun. But I've always believed the world must
have seen other Dickinsons, whose poems vanished, thrown away unread,
or great poems written by a prisoner who had no paper, by a dying
person composing only in their own thoughts, unable to write or speak.
And I believe these poems, unknown by others, matter.

Kushner's last statement though--"the myth that you alone are the
wellspring of your creativity"--that, I completely agree with. Poems
are made with language, a shared heritage none of us invents, and they
are made of forms of shapeliness that have been crafted over
millennia--rhyme or meter or free-verse measure, modes of comprehension
and expression, the signals that a person is now speaking/reading
poetry, not prose. And, too, at another level, any creative realization
feels like a gift: not made in isolation, but received from the world
of experience, of life, of shared existence. Even the cubist paintings,
a fantastically willful imposition of vision on the world, still
function because our eyes have been schooled on the world, first, and
recognize the difference between seeings. The same with those poems of
E.E. Cummings in which language is bent and scrambled. Our pleasure in
them comes in the stretch from the "normal," and that we can still find
meaning, and enlarged meaning, in the re-arrangements. So yes, of
course, it's always collaborative and the species' inheritance, art.
Vision's a gift. Ears are a gift. Minds and hearts, gift.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #97 of 140: Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 8 Oct 11 10:36
    

Beautifully said, Jane.

I would add that the expectation that the writer now be a publicist,
salesperson, and public figure can have a chilling effect on writing by
depriving the writer of both time and that silent, private space he or she
needs to create.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #98 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sat 8 Oct 11 10:59
    
Mary, I find that shift in the business worrisome, too -- I'd so much
rather see you cranking out what I love, doing what you do best, and
have others whose strength is marketing work that end.

Agreed about Kushner's genius, Jane.  At first read, I liked the
quote, but upon consideration, it seemed less applicable to poetry than
what he does.  I love your reflections on the many approaches one can
take to writing, all equally valid, although in the course of observing
you and Mary, I have been struck by what a difference it can make to
others when writers grit their teeth, buckle down, and do the grunt
work of putting the word to the street.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #99 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sat 8 Oct 11 15:26
    
Jane, I've been thinking about your assertion that even poems unknown
by others matter.  I like that thought.  My question is how?  Do you
mean they serve a purpose for the composer, and that is enough?  Or
perhaps the act of composing and the realizations that come from it
wreak changes that cause one to act differently, thereby having an
effect on those around one.

In conjunction with that thought, I wonder which poets or poems have
most affected you two.  I'm not asking about influences in your
writing, although I'd be interested in learning that too, if you'd care
to take the question that direction.  What I am most curious about,
though, is your experience as readers: who or what has made a
difference in your life, to you personally, in the realm of poetry? 
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #100 of 140: From Sara Schier-Hanson (captward) Sat 8 Oct 11 15:43
    
  I want to attempt a response to the question of the need for
poetry's presence in our lives and the love many of us have for poetry.
I am going to come at this by way of offense I felt outside one day
this spring unloading the contents of my mailbox. It held nothing but
advertisements, which on any other day provokes only a heavy sigh. That
day I came into the house fuming, calling to my daughter, "Target is
using haiku in its coupon booklet!" Horrible haiku had been written to
pitch every item from garden hoses to cookie sheets.
Later when I felt minutely charitable toward Target, I thought at
least they have put some English major to work in a bad economy,but
viscerally the use of haiku to sell commodities hit me as a horrible
theft. We know that advertising has long made use of rhyme-"jingles,"
but jingles are created to do just that--jingle the product into our
memories so we can jingle out some cash ( or scrape some plastic.)
   Target's use of haiku offended me. Life lived in our culture is
life shaped by three major modes of thought--the
technical-positivistic, ideological, and consumer-commodification, but
we can only live for so long within their circumscription.There come
those moments when a baby dies, a lover caresses, a stranger gives
help, or a meal is shared. The lid just has to pop, because despite
what technical thinking claims certitude is not a given; there is
mystery; there is no accounting that can quantify the love that can
come our way. Ideology can claim to have everything covered, but there
come those days when the wind is chapping your wrists and you know too
well despite its claims, ideology's sleeves are too short. The day you
see the sun glinting off a child's hair or a breeze finally moves
through so you can fall asleep, you know that everything can't be
bought. On those days and because of those days we need poetry to pop
the lid, notice the lack and receive the gift.
   Far from being a whimsical (for those who birth poetry whimsy
doesn't describe it) utensil in the drawer of self expression, poetry
exists as an ensign a provocateur/trice-- there is inadequacy and
limitation in all human speech and modes of thought. This is why we
need poetry. This is why dictators kill the poets first.
   Why love poetry? One has to let go of control when approached by a
poem, because the pattern of its speech, its cadence, its tendency
towards juxtaposition, its density of thought are not common discourse.
If I am reading a poem oftentimes I am forced to change where I would
breathe or elongate a syllable.( I might be forced to read Portuguese!)
Most of us would never choose to give up control, but we do for
poetry, because poetry is benevolent. Even if all the poet has shown us
is the bright yellow feather on a duck, we are given a view of a
feather, which if the poet is good, is one we have never beheld. This
new vision/perspective is poetry's gift. The content of the
vision--duck feather, marriage, Grecian urn often matters not. Rather
it is the simple evocation of a vision allowing one to glimpse that
indeed there is something new under the sun--that there is something
more that can be seen, heard, felt that moves one to hope. This isn't
the "more" of consumerism it is the more of a yet unfolding story. This
hope is poetry's endearing gift.
  
  Trying to ponder these questions I had to turn to one of my favorite
books whose title I had never noticed had been taken from an excerpt
of a Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. I will sign off with the excerpt.
I will continue listening. The discourse of insightful people is a gift
of this inkwell conference. I think the topic is worthy of its two
weeks and hope that it can fill as many pages as the previous inkwell
conversation about the ease with which society could be undone by
attacks on its infrastructure and our computer systems. Real danger
comes when Target takes the poets hostage.Stay free.
 
 
Walt Whitman
 
 After the seas are all cross'd,(as they seem already
         cross'd,)
 After the great captains and engineers have accomplish'd
         their work,
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist,
         the geologist, ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet worthy of that name,
The true son of God shall come singing his songs.
 
 
 
 
                                                                      
      ( Walt, the daughters are coming, too.)
                                                                      
       Thank you.
                                                                      
       
 
  

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