Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Thursday, May 24, 2007


We keep using words that don't work anymore
(we're told)--beauty, heart,
truth, love--using them because
we want them to work.

Keats spoke
simply of truth and beauty, and an arc
of brilliance that lit up his century
leapt the gap between dream and know.
Yeats had to give birth to a terrible
beauty to ignite us.

These sparks,
like stars hazed over by city lights,
now are blanched in the neon flare
of frenetic signs blazoning the truth
of True Cigarettes, the beauty
of beautiful shampoo, the breakfast
cereal you'll love and the politician
you know is right in your heart.

Can one ashamed to say "I love you"
love? We try to heighten love and truth
and beauty, add garish auras with
"diseased", "hectic", "skeletal beauty",
"the rictus of love", "the bruised
apples of truth left to us", "the
algebra of the unknown heart"--

but we cannot further overload
these circuits; the fuses blew out
decades ago. Yet we stand here
in the abandoned house, flicking
the dusty light switches on, off,
on, off (because it is all we know
on earth, but not all we need to know),
hoping for a light.

Note: The poem above is a bit condensed for an essay, but I think a careful reading will find in it a linear discursive line of reasoning. Language deteriorates when it ceases to provide us a means to communicate what we want to communicate and, in particular, a means of sharing our most important experiences, which, thus becoming difficult to share, to that extent become unreal to us, since much of what makes these experiences (of love or beauty, for example) real is our sense of agreement about them.

Usually when we consider the degeneration of language, we look at the way words once vital have become trite, so that speaking of love, truth or beauty is "truism", stirs no spark of recognition, just tired nods.

In the poem above I look at another sign of degeneration: The strains introduced into language in an attempt to do battle with triteness. For example, where the word "beauty" ceases to induce swoons, perhaps "a terrible beauty" (Yeats) will stir something up. And decade by decade we find more odd and perverse ways to position beauty in hopes of wringing a few more drops of feeling (even if only disgust) out of the word.

When poetry or other verbal expressions rely too much on such efforts, the result is a mere masking of the degeneration, as when, lovers, fallen out of love, keep trying to stir up the embers with crotchless panties, odd sexual positions, adultery, threesomes, orgies, etc., none of which have anything to do with revitalizing the love (based on free-flowing communication) that, by this time, the lovers have ceased to believe could ever have been possible. Being in good communication made sex fun. Trying to force sex to be fun does not engender good communication.

Problems vanish when the lies that hold them in place are spotted. Problems persist in ever more pervasive forms when they are "solved" by a concatenation of desperate gimmicks.

How does this apply to poets and their communications? I have some phrases that mean something to me and perhaps have helped my writing. I don't know whether they'd be of use to others, but here are a few of them:

While part of writing is to write and keep writing and write a lot, it is more important to become someone who has something to say.

I try to look at my reader and talk to him/her (that may be you).

No comments: