What is memorable about contemporary poetry?

 

"Indigo's Hand," Tuscany, 2015

 

Dear Everybody,

Happy Moon-day. Until late last night I was going to share a thought-experiment on a section from Lawrence Durrell's Clea (fourth book of The Alexendria Quartet) called "My Conversations with Brother Ass." But I've decided against it (for now) in favor of a different approach to the titular question of this letter, upon which it feels important to meditate for the foreseeable future. And I could use your help.

I would be so grateful if you would send me one line/breath (up to a stanza) of poetry that you unfailingly remember — a thought (word for word, composed by someone else) to which you return, or which returns to you, minus a book or a search engine. Some of you will have memorized many poems, and some of you will have committed no single piece to memory. Either way, I am interested in how poetry sticks with us, how it works its way into our lives. And hearing which lines now live in your blood and your bones will be immensely helpful. Then we can begin to get at the question of "contemporary" poetry, and how it initiates (and fails to initiate) remembrance.

Please use the message box below. You'll notice that I have not included the option to share your name. While I would personally love to know who is sharing what, for the sake of the study/meditation it feels important not to know. The poetry will suffice. Please include the line's author. And feel free to send more than one line, so long as it is something you know by heart.

 
 

I should mention that I do not intend to answer the question, exactly. Which in certain circles would render the inquiry rather pointless. But I happen to believe — thanks in large part to the enlightened encouragement of this remarkable person — in the power of pointlessness. Of wandering, erosion, digression, and darkness. These things seem necessary in art. And now I will quote Lawrence Durrell after all:

"It is not really art which is at issue, it is ourselves. Shall we always be content with the ancient tinned salad of the subsidized novel? Or the tired ice-cream of poems which cry themselves to sleep in the refrigerators of the mind? If it were possible to adopt a bolder scansion, a racier rhythm, we might all breathe more freely!"

What about rhythm and breathing room? Here's Virginia Woolf in a letter to Vita Sackville-West in 1926:

"Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can't dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm."

Does contemporary poetry lack rhythm? (Pattern, repetition, recognition, sway?) In asking what is memorable about contemporary poetry, I am really asking: What does it give us to return to? And how is it we enact the return? Out of fear? Desire? Self-importance? Pain? Joy? Ignorance? Honor? Helplessness? Surrender? What of a culture in which lines of poetry no longer appear in moments of darkness and despair, joy and passion? Are poets making these lines available? Are lines no longer enough? What the hell is a line, anyway?

A line is the time it takes to get from one point to another. And the time it takes to get from one point to another is a metaphor for living. In composing poems, are we taking enough time? Are we actually living? Is time such a luxury? Is poetry no longer readily apparent in our languages, in our lives?

Yours in the pines and the plenty,

⎯ Joe