Presence in Poetry

23 November 2018 on Poetry, Storystorm  

I write poetry to get weird. I want to be the weirdest me there is and then push that marker; I want to float, magnanimous as a blimp; to pop a kid’s birthday balloon for spite; to gather honey for my honeys; to disappear myself long enough to walk around in what I’ve made and see beyond what I know.

Poetry can do this because it is expansive or maybe the word is ‘magic’—Louis Glück calls it “truth…the sudden rush of wonder and awe and terror.”

Another way to understand this sentiment is in how Seamus Heaney presents poetry “as divination, poetry as revelation of the self to the self.” We know what he means. We have had our moments of wonder when the right word comes—or was it the surprising and true image? Perhaps it’s a memory we didn’t know we’d forgotten? Or the juicy fruit of eavesdropping? Maybe it’s the thing our mother says every time she hangs up the phone?

Whatever it is, wherever it came from, it is welcome. It feels good. When I feel this way I think, “I’m writing poetry.” Robert Hass has an idea of when things are poetry; he names this idea, ‘presence’, and describes it as, “the form of a poem, that shape of its understanding. The presence of that shaping constitutes the presence of poetry.” When he says, “the presence of that shaping” I delight in the ongoing, present-participle of it all.

A poem is molten, it is an improvisation, it is both from the self but beyond the self. It is happening, right now.

If this sounds giddy, that’s because it is. If it sounds mystical and vague, it’s that, too—just like there’s mystery in alchemy, or in any result that’s greater than its parts. Still, it’s admittedly unsettling. Glück says, “The love of truth is felt as chronic aspiration and chronic unease. If there is no test for truth, there is no possible security.”

True, writing contains the possibility of failure, but on its other face is wonder. I write to feel wonder at what’s made out of me; I read to feel wonder at what’s made out of others—wonder and awe and terror.

Anna Ohara is Barnstorm's Poetry Editor.

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