Hyper-formalism & the Long Henry Poem

I made a simple creative decision about 4 years ago.  I knew I was about to embark on yet another long serial poem (I've written about 9 of them).  I decided that the individual parts (the separate poems) within the whole thing should be, if possible, more free-standing.

In part, I wanted to make my writing more accessible.  I wanted more magazines to accept my poems for publication (always a real struggle for me).  In order for that to happen, these smaller parts would have to be more autonomous, complete in themselves.  They would need separate titles, not just "Lanthanum bk. 12 no. 28" & the like.

The titles were the easy part.  My plan has only been partially successful.  But partial is better than nothing.  I've landed a few pellets of the new poem (Ravenna Diagram) in various magazines : Poetry, Blackbox Manifold, Journal of Poetics Research, West Branch, Notre Dame Review, Truck, Battersea Review...

This is a step forward for me.  I've probably written more poems, and published less, than any poet in America.

Part of the problem is, I'm not consistent.  I make resolutions & then go the other way.  I resolved a year ago not to post so many poems on this blog, & then I did the opposite.

Not only that - I also alienate potential & previous friends and publishers.  Things go awry.  I've come to the conclusion that there are various subtle patterns shaping these frustrating encounters.  Real books only emerge because they were meant to be.  Or because your deepest affinities have finally borne fruit - by grace, by miracle, you meet the small publisher who's been waiting all this time for you.  Kismet.

My waxing voluble here is due to the fact that I'm unwinding.  I'm celebrating the successful finish of book 9, Ravenna Diagram.  & I'm nearing the halfway point of this hyper-formal poem.  It presently stands, or sits, at about 510 pp.

I know where I'm going (as in the old Isle of Mull film).  The poem has a plan for me.  Sort of a sand mandala, shaping itself up with little voodoo flicks of sandy fingertips.  An hourglass in the form of canoe.

It's a Leaves of Grass kind of mumble-saunter.  It's a mummer's walk around a golden labyrinth - a traditional Crane Dance, performed by a blind man (mesmerized).

That's why the blog has proved so seductive & essential.  It's both immediate and chronological; it walks with me on my planetary seasonal rounds.

The poem is a stone fallen from heaven; no one will judge it.  Osip Mandelstam.

I'm trying to exemplify & prove the truth of this statement.  Of course, there is a social cost involved.  If you try to go around the distinguished cultural authorization channels, you will, most assuredly, be branded an outcast, an interloper.

Someone has probably written a treatise on the mutual co-dependence of High Society and Literature (maybe at the New Yorker?  or Paris Review?  Kenyon?  Harvard?).

On the other hand... please understand... I harbor no animus toward Society.  I am, simply, a poet caught in the net of hyper-formalism.

& what, you may ask, is hyper-formalism?

Hyper-formalism is the emergence of a form out of the necessary logic of a theme.  The theme, you could say, is the fate of the poem - & its fate determines its form.

Fate is, naturally, a dramatic force : a force for drama.  & poetry is the mimesis, the dramatization, of fate.  So poetry has discovered its vocation, finally - it's a mumbling medium for the human theatre.

& what if the fate of the poem - its theme - is to be a kind of local, allegorical embodiment of (universal, elemental) truth?  The poem veers toward prophecy... the poet veers toward seer... toward manifest Logos...

A stone fallen from heaven.  You begin perhaps to comprehend & forgive the orientation toward immediacy, toward "unsponsored" speech.

I've devoted most of my life to these verbal snares, these long-walk dream songs.  It's been a joy & a challenge.  I'm stepping blindfolded around a maze on the floor of Chartres cathedral.  Ariadne is the thread.  The Earth lies underneath.

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