Reflection: Poetry is like coffee
Nobody seemed to be interested in the last poem I posted in December, “Endless war”. The thing is, I get it. It’s a difficult poem for anyone to find their way into, but it is a style of poem that I find myself returning to and needing to explore. Is it too obscure? Is it too subjective? Am I backing myself into a corner? Should I bother arguing my case for writing poetry like this? Listen . . . poetry needs to respond to the Zeitgeist. I have always felt that there has to be survival value in poetry. It’s not mind-candy. It’s good for us but above all, it’s good for our souls and our souls are tough. They have been around the block so to speak.
A ”good” poem, a strong poem shouldn’t shy from addressing serious, even life and death, issues, and sometimes I find that convention, conventional forms of language, erect barriers against directness and inhibit the potential of language to evoke the rawness of certain realities. Poetry, at its best, goes ahead of us, a few steps or a mile. It clears a small path to move forward from where we were before we read the poem. How many poems do this? I don’t know, but I do know that some poets write with this awareness. They put their own psychologies aside and trust the voice that animates the poem, that infuses the language to call the shots. But there is another piece to this: A poem has to be readable or palatable or accessible, otherwise, it slips away. It languishes, like a fusty quote from Emerson or the Elizabethan English of Shakespeare or even the wisdoms of Rumi. It carries exactly what the medicine doctor ordered but if it isn’t accessible, it might as well not have been conceived.
The alchemists of the Middle Ages were discovering amazing things about the transmutation or sublimation of matter through observing their own projections onto their profoundly mysterious work. The Church was very suspicious of their motives and was eager to peg them as sorcerers and servants of the devil, so they found a way to codify their experiments in arcane language, abstruse metaphors really, that only made sense to other alchemists. Poets are, in a sense, alchemists in that they know that they are doing important work and the language of poetry is, in fact, a language, just like math is a language. But we have to be careful not to codify our expressions. Am I being too protective, too cautious? I would argue not. I am not really worried about the NSA knocking or the Inquisition sentencing me to burning at the stake because of anything I write. But, I would argue that most poets are writing in a semi-mystical language for other poets — poets who write and poet’s at heart, which covers a large portion of the human race. Poetry is a pure and ancient quasi-science. It is a kind of soulful-science that promotes the soul’s work. It keeps the soul’s pilot flame burning in a world that is hell-bent on blowing it out.
But, one thing about a blog, that I have learned over the last few months is, it’s not going to fly if no one reads it. On the other hand, I believe in myself, and I believe in what I write. I believe in how I express myself. So, pardon me if, when I post something that doesn’t click, if sometimes I come back with the request to look again. Try it again. Maybe it’s like one’s first sip of coffee. It tastes bitter at first, but after the second or third try maybe something happens; the brain makes an adjustment. Other tastes, smells etc. enter into the experience and one embraces it. It’s not the coffee that has changed but one’s taste for it. So, just for now, I invite you to see poetry as coffee, if you catch my drift. And I pride myself in making a pretty good cup.