Friday, February 26, 2010

Poems are like batteries...

Thanks to Joe Hutchison over at The Perpetual Bird for his excellent posting at Suite 101 on the writing of metaphors.

How many poets do you know who would use the lines of one of their own, unpublished poems to give an example of a tortured metaphor, much less deem it "bizarre" and possibly even "grotesque"? (Yes, we all do that, I suppose, or at least some of us do, in re-reading something we've written years ago that in the light of now seems hopelessly naive, embarrassingly trite, or pompously pedantic (referring to fiction here) or just blatantly bad (referring to poetry) and the last thing one wants to do is showcase those words--except perhaps among trusted friends in moments of mutual hilarity, as in a  "You think YOUR early stuff is awful--bet you can't top THIS one!" kind of way.)

But Joseph Hutchison is a fine poet and I wish I had had someone like him as a mentor when I was first being introduced to poetry. I think I've learned more from his insightful explanations (in this type essay) and discussions about poetry (on his regular blog) than I ever did in academia.

"Poems are like batteries," he says, "they store imaginative energy and release it in moments of illumination." A poem's force is felt in its metaphors. And not just any old metaphor will reach the reader in a way that "shines a light into the dark that surrounds us".

Poems as batteries ... this metaphor itself illuminated another realization--that batteries don't work forever, they have to be frequently recharged, that imaginative energy can be in short supply, and that poems, like their authors, come and go. But the creative force behind the delicate job of the finding of words to construct a meaningful poem somehow remains. That it comes easily to some and is enormously difficult for others is not the point.  I guess I'm interested more in the fact that poems continue to be created at all, that countless individuals are still compelled, century after century,  to sit down, put pen to paper and attempt to express things that cannot be expressed in quite the same way in any other way except in a poem.

Poems need to be re-read [recharged]to release their illumination to new generations of readers. Poets want readers to see what they see: Stop a minute. Look. Can you see where these words are taking you? Can you feel their effect?

The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay talked of her candle burning "at both ends"[1], not lasting the night, and she invited friends and foes alike to just look and see its "lovely light".  That little poem, for me, expresses the sheer strength of this force, the power of mere words on a page to enable the reader to see and understand what a poet sees and strives to describe without actually describing it.  This just to say that for some of us, poetry is indeed sometimes a connection ... to that light in the dark "that surrounds us."

"Metaphors Gone Amuck"

Words are like threads           [cliché in need of a fresh likeness]
that we weave to connect
the fibres of being,
the eyes of our seeing,
that others unravel, restitch
or preserve
but preserved, are forgotten;
destroyed, are remembered.
a tapestry forever
in progress.

Poetry:  an unfinished portrait of words
seeking other words
that bring the light
to light.

Or something like that....

Thanks to Joe Hutchison for a fine article on metaphors.   [I actually cringed when I saw his reference to writers who have this inexplicable "urge to be ostantatiously inventive".  Dang.  There goes my bloggy wordplay plans for the week.  I never met a 4 I didn't like.  On the other hand, meta 4s are so uppity, so beyond the beyond, so to speak.   That kind of thing.  OID:  Ostantatious Inventive Disorder.  (Or is it Overly Idiotic Digressionamblia?   Obviously Intentionally Delusional?) ("Can I ask a rhetorical question? Well, can I?" -- Ambrose Bierce)

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