Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reflections on My 500th Post

This two-eyed, uncountable number makes me think of formula one racecars making concrete rafters shake or skyscrapers with their lights on all night. It makes me turn my fancies temporarily away from the arcana and tollkeeping of verse and onto the larger blogospheric world, i.e. actual human society. The virtual world is populated by real people, but so often they’re disguised behind obsessions with, say, hot peppers, Mauritius, or the Truman Show-like videos of their babies daily growing up, to name three among the millions floating in the soup like some vast fantasy machine of gentle service to people’s addictions, as if the internet was a vast Vegas roulette wheel, where what happens there stays there.

What is the place of poetry, the oldest of arts, within this church of the endless mind? I’m only a grain of salt even on the poetic landscape here, but I have a larger readership than did such luminaries as Greville, Blake, Keats, Rimbaud or of course Emily Dickinson (none of whom had readers in Dubai or Ulan Bator as far as I can tell). Yet I see blogs in my chosen field of finance that have 60,000 hits a day, while I’m lucky to get 60. What conjuration ability can poems have in a world that wants results that can be monetized, like earth, water and air? In the realm of verbal expression we call that tradable quality communication, and poetry fits into that goal the way autism or people who speak through a blowhole in their throats do (these are just harmless metaphors, no disrespect intended for autistics or people who speak through a blowhole in their throats).

I suppose it’s like William Carlos Williams said "It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there." I want so much to believe that, because that’s what it means to me, but I know poets do tend to see death in every leaf that’s out of place, even doctors who deliver babies assume their own loneliness is the general human condition. Maybe it is. Maybe poetry really is practical as a salve for the tangles and frays of today’s hyper-charged lives. But then there’s the matter of having given up convincing even those closest to me that writing poetry is not some strange mental illness, an affliction deserving of pity and the widest of berths. John Ashbery thinks his poems simple and practical, and I think my poems are simple and practical, but they are still poems – wild things beyond the fence, so pure as to be perverse. Plus I assume that all the thoughts and feeling that descend into my every word or phrase, all the imbedded references, the personal resonances, the way the sound of syllables hits me, will just pop back up in the reader’s mind like multi-colored plastic boots do in the streets on a rainy day in Manhattan—meanwhile I’m just now getting, four months after the fact, a reference from my friend Hannah in her poetry blog when it turned two that she wouldn’t throw any tantrums. Ha, that’s funny!

This is a fancy way of saying I have nothing to say about why there’s so little me in all these words that come out of me—the dog I walked today must be a wolf of divine vengeance. I don’t think I could be confessional if I wanted to be, and that’s the last thing I want to be. Poems that don’t at least attempt to achieve a disembodied state are not worth writing, much less reading. But the problem is that the higher spheres, for all their mathematical harmonics, like it incoherent, or at least beyond coherence as we mere mortals practice it. Their rationale is simple: words create things, why re-create like some police pathologist when you can re-organize chaos and make it a comfortable fit? Such standards terrify me, quite frankly, because poems to me should have the same illusions as life, that of having a beginning, middle and end. They should only be as large as the mind’s ability to understand them, they should resemble durable objects like pearls. They should be plastic and dumb like humans, should they not?

This, in other words, seems a worse balancing act than the one handed to President Obama. I guess, at the most basic level, people want to know “why the hell is he doing this?” My answer is the same as it would be if the question was “what have I learned?” “how was I influenced?” or “how do I get published?”: I don’t know. All I know for sure is that this is a wonderful respite from the joy of giving to others all day long—it’s a giving back to myself. ‘Cos I deserve it.

With that in mind, here are my own personal favorites of the poems I’ve posted here since Memorial Day, 2007.

Twilight Gift--One of my favorite short poems

Return to the Superstitions--Comes closest to what I really meant to say

The Woman from Michigan--Captured as it happened at 4 o’clock in the morning

Looking Out Car Window, Thinking Larry Eigner--Guys from Swampscott and Marblehead checking out Highway 8

Three Perspectives on the War--Not for the squeamish

The Children of Baltimore--This one always makes me cry

Four Corners Postcard: Colorado--For the photos alone

Tribute to the Red Shield and its Five Arrows--A different kind of political poem

The Forties People--Like the Philadelphia Experiment, this one is real

Avebury--My all-time most visited post

My humble thanks to anyone reading who takes pleasure in what I write.