Saturday, March 22, 2008

Leafspeech & The Poetics of the Soul

Where you are least knowable I celebrate you most.
- A.R. Ammons

My best friend Richard just so happens to be one of the greatest living poets I know. He has a facility for writing in several styles of prose. Whereas works from his late twenties are meditative expressions culled from a romantic appreciation for nature similar to A.R. Ammons and Charles Wright, his more recent body of poetry takes a modernist approach uniquely his own that manages to preserve both his southern voice and personal history.

I'd like to share his early poetry side-by-side with his contemporary work with you someday, but that will depend on him giving me his permission, which I as of yet do not have. He has, however, approved my sharing the poem I'm including in this blog; a poem he sent me in response to a conversation on midlife strife.

I believe every art form carries with it its own spiritual lineage, which, not to be confused with tradition, is like a seed of unparalleled genius, sensitivity, vision and creativity implanted in many but awakened in only a precious few. This sowing not only ensures that the spirit of poetry (or art) survives but that it continues to bloom over successive generations.

To me, art, and that is art in its many forms, provides a universal stopgap for the insanity that coincides with being human. Art is the beacon we look to, what draws us near when we seek what's real and enduring and true in life. What I find most beautiful and enduring in a work of art is its defiance; for though art often evolves out of a solitary process, or what some might consider vulnerable or meek even, the end result--the work--is capable of imparting strength and power, of uniting (nay, igniting!) the human collective heart and inspiring change. Without these aesthetic works, human imagination and soul would hemorrhage to the point of nonexistence. Indeed the arts are as essential to quality of life as healthy nutrient-rich soil, clean air and water. Moreover, insufficient exposure to and lack of funding for the arts contributes to another inconvenient truth: global warming's sister crisis, global dimming of the mind and soul.

One of the first voices to speak about the poetic tradition was T.S. Elliot. Before I introduce my friend's poem, I'd like to share a few excerpts from Elliot's essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent", written (I believe) in 1922, that mirror my own innate understanding of the poet's/artist's historical placement within his craft and the interconnectedness he shares with those who have preceded him as well as with those who shall follow after.

No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities...

... To proceed to a more intelligible exposition of the relation of the poet to the past: he can neither take the past as a lump, an indiscriminate bolus, nor can he form himself wholly on one or two private admirations, nor can he form himself wholly upon one preferred period. The first course is inadmissible, the second is an important experience of youth, and the third is a pleasant and highly desirable supplement. The poet must be very conscious of the main current, which does not at all flow invariably through the most distinguished reputations. He must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same. He must be aware that the mind of Europe—the mind of his own country—a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind—is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draughtsmen. That this development, refinement perhaps, complication certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement. Perhaps not even an improvement from the point of view of the psychologist or not to the extent which we imagine; perhaps only in the end based upon a complication in economics and machinery. But the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past's awareness of itself cannot show.

Some one said: "The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did." Precisely, and they are that which we know.

And now I present a poet who embodies that which we know and are. Enjoy.
(Author's note: The black cottage part refers to a poem by Frost "The Black Cottage")

March 29th, Record High

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This week, the boulevard was pink,
Now rows of sober trees at the ends of wind,
White petals drawn to gutters below what was
A sexus-nexus, or what have you—the party
Before this heated deepening, reddened levels
Extending me: in all this, I see me, at forty.

Last week, I figured myself the buzzing pink
Trees in the doorway of an old black cottage,
Forelighters, in plain sight, of the bees' surprise
In the walls—remember, that's when preacher,
Who'd been so reaching and garrulous, said let's get.
The speaker, the listener, regrets that nectar.
I mean to say, he wonders about the honey.

But April never is a cruel month, and
I always take the flower for the fruit.
A sycamore seed's afloat on my Spanish wine
And water blend, in the cup you made, wherever
You are. It turns and turns.

Wearing Kansas City Frank's foot warmers,
I came down from the central Midwest. I held
To shady paths. The meditation I need
Is harlequin bugs on collard greens, and stokes
To strike in toward a low spring fiction.

Bermuda Grass Forgives the Plow and Sends
A World of Tillers Out to Grab the Land

© 2007 Richard Earles

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