Friday, July 15, 2011

What do butterflys have to do with poetry?

What do butterflies have to do with poetry? I don't think the word butterfly occurs even once in the entire Norton Anthology of Poetry. Poetry generally comes in one of two forms... either a lyrical record of struggle... or as a greeting card.

What does it mean to lead a poetic life. If the history of poetry is any indication, the poetic life (at least the life of the poet) is one of tragedy... of endless struggle against the forces of sorrow, loss, alienation, and death.... and the afterlife!!! Granted, there are some moments of unbridled joyfulness, but such moments are few and far between.

Joy doesn't seem to offer the intellectual heft that draws the poet into the life long search for expression. I have often wondered about this... why so few artists (in general) do not take "happy-happy-joy-joy" as their theme. I think it is because happiness is an end in itself... it doesn't need to be figured out or expressed... it only needs to be experienced. Expression serves as psychic therapy for the wounds inflicted on us by society, by life, and by ourselves... the pain of which torments us and begs to be understood... to be fixed... to lead us to some elusive happiness, where expression ends, and pure experience begins. It is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

"But not so, how arrives it joy lies slain, and why un-blooms the best hopes ever sown... crass causality obstructs the sun and moon, and dicing time for gladness casts a moan..."

And so on and so on.

So when one references the poetic life.. is it the Hallmark version, or the "To be or not to be" version. And even though I have put a pejorative spin on those choices... where the "Hallmark" version is seen as weak minded and banal... I should say I am totally fine with that choice. Why shouldn't someone live in a Hallmark world.. a world of looking deeply into each others eyes while saying (or thinking) thoughts such as "Your eyes are liquid pools of mystery"... or "Our bodies exploded with the joy of newfound love"... etc. Such experiences are exquisite, even if their expression seems silly... seems embarrassing… like watching ones parents make-out. I sometimes think that the truly beautiful experiences can only be understood in the act of experiencing them... that is... in our minds... such that expressing in words is to rob them of identity.. to turn it into a set of cliched physical acts that don't add up to how it felt. In such a case, the most intimate and spiritual sexual encounter becomes the equivalent of two dogs doing it in the side yard. Sad but perhaps true.

The life of the poet is not the same as the life of the reader of the poem, the painter is not the same as the viewer of the painting. The creator is not the spectator. The actor is not the audience.  Is this poetic life one of creative expression, or the life of consumption... and does this consumer cast about for verse that reaffirms their worldview... which is the all too frequent tendency in consumer driven, on demand world we live in. After all, why should anyone trouble themselves in the life... all too short a time we're here. And yet without such troubling, there would be no poetry. When art buckles and folds to the consumer demands of such pressure, when it conforms itself to the expectations of the audience, it ceases to be art... it becomes entertainment... and poetry is no different than television.

Poetry, poetry, poetry... why bother to suffer at it's hand at all.

"Tis true the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale
But take it if the smack is sour
The better for the embittered hour
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul's in my soul's stead
And I will friend you if I may
In that dark and cloudy day"

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