Saturday, June 14, 2008

With the Wind Blowing Through It

Poets have a tendency to present simple things as being deeply meaningful—or so says the popular understanding of poetry. One response to this understanding is to deny it—but if your poems don't aim at some meaning beyond the simple statement of the words themselves, then what are you writing them for? Another response is to accept that understanding but argue that it's not as simple as that—which accepts that understanding at a different level! A third response is to embrace it: yes, we poets are finding deep meaning in simple things. But then you risk sounding exactly like a poet is assumed to sound by those who never read poetry—the "wow, man, deep" school, if you will. A fourth response is to historicize it—poets are like soothsayers, who take their auguries from the patterns the birds fly in the sky. All this as an introduction to the last three lines of Reginald Shepherd's "With the Wind Blowing Through It" (from Fata Morgana):

The same sky keeps happening
but differently each time
(today with finches in it)

Perhaps it is the poet's willingness to see what is different in the same that makes the poet a poet, while also leading to the popular conception (misconception?) of poetry as something deep put in a simple way. But it's not the depth that is the point for the poet (or is it?), but the difference—the defamiliarization of the sky, in this case (sorry, Shklovsky sometimes rears his charming head). Or to be less theoretical and more poetic about it, in the words of Paul Celan, "something intervenes."

"Oh, wow, man, that's deep."


brian salchert said...

Your use(s) of "deep" made me think
of two things, neither of which would
be appropriate here; but there is a
third which is appropriate:
the depth is in the difference.
I know Reginald feels a poem should
reveal to him something he
does not already know. Accordingly,
he wants his poems to do the same
for others, and
"finches in it" does that
in more than one way.

Between what Reginald wrote and
what Celan said/ I sense Wallace
Stevens. Not sure why.

Andrew Shields said...

"The depth is in the difference": I like that.

I read Stevens and Celan in parallel a couple years ago: Stevens's Library of America edition and Celan's Complete Poems (including the posthumously published work). It was quite an experience, and it was quite surprising how much overlap there seemed to be between the two. Stevens unapologetically wrote in a way that Celan would have liked to but found himself deeply suspicious of.

Dave King said...

Wow, man, and I've been posting about seeing sameness being a higher cognitive function than seeing difference! But maybe cognition is not the poet's powerhouse..?

Mark Granier said...

Thanks for that quote Andrew: lovely lucid image, the kind of thing I dig (man).

I've been in touch with Reginald and he seems to be recovering, albeit gradually.