Monday, March 10, 2008

I hold with those who favor fire

I've been reading poetry lately.

This information, unfortunately, reads as if presented in a cursive font with a nice pastel background sporting some form of blooming flower.

Not so.

Returning to poetry after a ten year post-college lapse--if there's one thing that is easy to ignore outside the artificial bubble of academia, it is the existence of poetry--has shattered the popular misconception of poetry as a dreamy, feminine form of expression. Poetry isn't the cute, lovable VW Bug puttering through a meadow as much as it is a sports car running wild on a tankful of blood.

By its very nature poetry is the most immediate means of expressing something, be it a concept, emotion, moment, or story. Novelists have all the time imaginable to present their case, and short story writers have however many pages are granted by Playboy that month, but poets have to hit the ground running with the leanest prose possible in the race against the reader's attention span. Poets butcher their babies by carving off every ounce of fat, each individual word weighed and judged for inclusion. There is no form of communication with a higher blood-sweat-and-tears-to-words ratio than poetry.

What interests me most about poetry, however, is that there is also no other form of communication that so directly demands the participation of the reader. Good poetry doesn't just strip down to the compact essentials but instead goes one step further to eviscerate large chunks of content in the interest of forcing the listener to fill in the gaps. Explanation and exposition, who needs them? Or, more importantly, why pull the trigger when the reader is there to do it for you?

Take the following by Hemingway, which, while technically a short story, illustrates my point:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Taken at face value this is merely an ad for a pair of shoes, but once the reader jumps in the fray all sorts of staggeringly sad details begin to emerge.

Who created a situation in which a pair of baby shoes became prematurely unnecessary?

You did!

Who cursed someone with parental grief so deep another child seemed unbearable?

You did!

Who killed the poor infant in the first place?

You did!

Replace the cursive font with italicized urgency, backed with a pattern of mounting tension and headlines of bruised purple.

I've been reading poetry lately.

1 comment:

Sascha said...

I've been reading a bit too lately- mostly to get away from anatomy and physiology textbooks.
A favorite of late:

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond

by E. E. Cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond

any experience,your eyes have their silence:

in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,

or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me

though i have closed myself as fingers,

you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens

(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and

my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,

as when the heart of this flower imagines

the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals

the power of your intense fragility:whose texture

compels me with the color of its countries,

rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes

and opens;only something in me understands

the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)

nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands