Daily Archives: May 10, 2004

Seed Thought for the Day

The truth is that a man’s sense of the world dictates his subjects to him and that this sense is derived from his personality, his temperament, over which he has little control and possibly none, except superficially. It is not a literary problem. It is the problem of his mind and nerves. These sayings are another form of the saying that poets are born not made. A poet writes of twilight because he shrinks from noon-day. He writes about the country because he dislikes the city, and he likes the one and dislikes the other because of some trait of mind or nerves; that is to say, because of something in himself that influences his thinking and feeling. So seen, the poet and his subject are inseparable. There are stresses that he invites; there are stresses that he avoids. There are colors that have the blandest effect on him; there are others with which he can do nothing but find fault. In Music he likes the strings. But the horn shocks him. A flat landscape extending in all directions to immense distances placates him. But he shrugs his shoulders at mountains.

— Wallace Stevens, from Effects of Analogy (1948), The Necessary Angel

If, as Stevens proposes, a poet’s subject is congenital, that leads me to wonder about my own. While he states, earlier in the above-referenced essay, that “great numbers of poets come and go who have never had a subject at all,” I cannot see myself in that group. Perhaps after reading Foster’s biography of Yeats, I realized that I was not such a diletante, or rather a scatterbrain, at all, when it came to artistic endeavor. To be a playwright, poet, Musician, lyricist, essayist, polemicist, all in one frame-of-reference, is an achievable thing. And yet, I found in myself as compared to Yeats two things missing: one, an unerring belief in my own greatness; and two, the tenacity for self-publicizing that would drive me to have my voice heard, first, and heard in an environment that I created and/or controlled, second.

All that aside, I wonder on what my congenitally designated “poetic subject” might be. Or what, when I can avail myself of the ivory tower of solitary meditation and creative focus, is it that draws my thoughts in such a way that it is impossible NOT to write about them, or in some artistic manner, express my acknowledgment of it.

Looking back on the Poetry I’ve written in the past two years (probably my most consistently fruitful period in a single medium), I encounter a certain repetition of thematic elements: sound, silence, space, Music, balance and and underlying system of energy that runs through all that exists. But that seems too broad a spectrum of thought – and how it relates to the life I live, is questionable, although I can see how these things affect me, it is difficult to determine what exactly these concepts outline in my reality.

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Two Poets Lament, Part II

Perhaps the world is full of verse that fails,
inspiring none to act as heroes should;
and in frustration, lesser poets rail
against the confine and form of the good,
their self-aggrandized talents gone to waste
that they alone lament through sleepless nights
spent in a fruitless embrace of the chaste.
Would you have these sad wingless souls take flight?

These small words, you decry, may do no more
than taunt at nestlings yet to try their wings,
but to deny that role is to ignore
that first one dreams, and then one does, a thing.
The truest poet weaves philosophy
of the imagination into every phrase;
and in the face of man’s catastrophes
breathes new life into dark and bitter days.

So what if critics jibe and treat with scorn
the works that such a writer may produce?
For they, unlike the poet, are not born
but made – and made to work to prove their use
comparing one illusion to the next,
and in the vacuum of the known, resigned
to observation, that at best, reflects
a too swift movement through their time.

But poets are to blame, as well, for this;
they seek outside themselves for themes and signs,
believing the self-created, wild hubris
they use to justify a state of mind
too pure for common purposes or deeds,
accepting, without question, some great cause
in which they have no role or fate or need
except to garner temporal applause.

10 MAY 2004

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