Poetry: rebuilding the world through the un-wasted beauty of redemptive syntax

Dylan Thomas, a favorite poet and writer, says this about words in poetry:

And these words were, to me, as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments, the noises of wind, sea, and rain, the rattle of milkcarts, the clopping of hooves on cobbles, the fingering of branches on a window pane, might be to someone, deaf from birth, who has miraculously found his hearing…There they were, seemingly lifeless, made only of black and white, but out of them, out of their own being, came love and terror and pity and pain and wonder and all the other vague abstractions that make our ephemeral lives dangerous, great, and bearable. -as quoted by James Hillman in “The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart” (a must read, by the way).

I bemoan earlier days when poets were the prophets of the people. Words, stories and cultural anecdotes were the food-stuff of our existence, not the quaint, winter-hazed mist on the edges of our choked, windowed lives. They took center stage where the very words themselves were the Homeric epic of small existences writ large through bardic retelling to others thirsty to feel their enjoining on the stalk of shared time.

I begin here a short series of poetry about poetry, words about words; the metalanguage of the language, lost but longing to be refound, non-linear and non-pragmatic, seeking instead to rebuild the world through the unwasted beauty of redemptive syntax. To that end, I give you…


There you lay, face down in a puddle of

old dreams. Your brow, damp from

sweating out doubt-filled promises-

the mantric words of small men, of sullen women

bathing on stolen rooftops of run down tenements.

* * * * *

Goliath has defeated David with small,

pebbled words, slung out quietly across

the distance between them, too far

for slings filled with ancient anger.

Gruff prayers traded for slick threats.

* * * * *

Setesh broods his flustering fare. He sits

at the table of the unmemoried death,

serving up sighs and groans – the language

of lusty crows, too boisterous to still

their cantankerosity; too new and

untested to feed even their open-mouthed young.

* * * * *

Brush off the fog that settles on

your hunger for colored story, embattled songs,

for words floating and submerged under the borders,

planted in places too deep to be found

by spade, knife, wallet or hammer.

Longing letters taste like a lover’s kiss.

“There once was a girl from Nantucket…”: why I write poetry

poet's pen

“There once was a girl from Nantucket…”

There are as many ways of self-expression as there are people…self-expressing. One can say something in many and varied ways. There, see? Unlike other, non-poetic forms of writing, poetry evokes rather than explains. Now, good prose also can do this. But, somehow, there is an economy of words and focus of emotion in poetry, a kind of escalator narrative that moves us up and down at will, that prose cannot seem to create in as neat and succinct a way. Prose tells the story of our life on paper. Poetry crunches up the paper and then makes sense of the wrinkles. Prose seeks to pull petals off the flower and, in deconstructing it, find it. Poetry imagines the soul of the flower and, in ways both sensory and direct, introduces us. Prose tells us how beautiful the flower is. Poetry tells the flower how beautiful we are. In a real sense, poetry is a flower, a kind of natural face given to the mystery of our being.

Poetry doesn’t take us from A to B. It asks why we even need B in the first place, or at least takes the longer, scenic route. Prose needs readers to engage with its detail and form. Poetry needs but to exist since it is both beauty and the suggestion thereof. It is an invitation not to read but to be read. “If a tree falls in the forest” is a question we ask ourselves. The poet shows how cool a silent tree really is. It is the art of words rather than the science of language. Moreover, the lucidity and dominance of its spatial, nuanced non-rhetoric leaves a big, front door through which those of us thirsty for something other than exactitude and definition may find our Narnia. A good narrative will give us the tale, the wardrobe, the place. Poetry helps us live the tale. Prose ushers us to turkey dinner at Grandma’s house. Poetry ushers us to Grandma whose heart was the crucible of love out of which came our dinner.

I write poetry because, for me, it is prayer. It allows extreme right-brained thinkers like myself to engage with words in more dancelike fashion, treating them more like lovers than telemarketers. I can simply close my eyes and, through the mystery of my subconscious, knit to God’s own being, walk through the veil of here to there without having to explain why or even how I got there. Poetry is perfect for people who can’t figure things out but for whom the things are just as cool unfigured out. Mystery wins every time.

If you had no idea what the hell I just wrote, you’re not quite ready for poetry…just yet.

Photo: www.blog.ted.com

Empty House – guest poem by Seymour Jacklin

Another guest poem today. This one is by another favorite writer/poet and emerging friend, Seymour Jacklin. He is also a gifted storyteller with an awesomely cool accent (think South African blended with potpourri English). This one is spoken word which, in my opinion, is the best way to capture the fullest essence of the multi-sensory art of poetry.