I Dwell in Possibility
I’m very much in love with poems lately. I guess ideally I should be all the time. But I must admit I go through times when I browse through a journal and then toss it aside thinking “Well, at least maybe publishing these poems is helping some deserving people keep their teaching jobs.”
But now, even when I get my weekly batch of student poems it feels like Christmas. All of that language, pages of it, in good faith, opening a space for the as yet unsaid!
You know, kind of like when you stepped out of your house last Wednesday morning and the world looked cleaner and shinier. A sense of possibility: poems are doing that for me too.
I went to a party on Election Night. Between the TV commentators and the political wonks I happen to number among my friends and neighbors, I began to feel dispirited. Not because anyone was in doubt about the outcome, but because of all the facts flying around. The dissection of why Obama won this state and if he wins that state it’s all over. The facts seemed very remote from the lovely state of being I wanted to be in. There’s nothing more boring than a fact: there it sits, inert as a potato, but not as nutritious. Facts may fill you up but they don’t make you dream (like a mushroom?).
Reginald Shepherd, who died in September, wrote beautiful poems, but nothing he wrote means as much to me as “Criteria,” his essay in response to Harold Bloom’s introduction to The Best of the Best American Poetry, where he wrote (you should read the whole essay, at bostonreview.net/BR23.3/shepherd.html):
For this black child growing up in the Bronx projects, it was precisely poetry's otherness that was liberating. It offered transformation, not representation. When I read T. S. Eliot, it was as much his words’ strangeness and opacity as any sense of identification or recognition in them that enthralled me. Poetry's resistance to communication--an estrangement from alienation which restores language to itself--its refusal to be of use, is the promise of happiness it embodies… I value such lines … because something is happening in them that happens nowhere else.
Transformation, not representation. Potential (the future), not facts (the past). A world that pelts you with facts needs the refreshment of that potential space.
This week I’m lucky to have the BAP blog urging me to notice poems that achieve this, as they occur to me, either discovering them for the first time or remembering them because I have this virtual space to fill.
I’ll start with my next post, coming within minutes.
-- Kathleen Ossip