Synthesis & first principles in poetry

 My "theory" of poetry, how I think about poetry in general or in the abstract, is idiosyncratic and fundamentally improvised.  I don't have a system or a rationale which I can advocate for or teach, as objective or universally relevant.  Nevertheless I feel the urge to organize my thoughts and defend my own practice.  Blogs are exquisitely appropriate for this kind of off-the-cuff table-talk, aren't they?  Sure, Henry.

And inevitably I'm bound to repeat myself.  I've been blogging along here for years.  Sorry about that.

I think poets are usually drawn to poetry as part of a general attraction to literature, an affinity for reading and words, a responsiveness to art and music.  And I think this "general attraction" is part of an even more basic and universal human adherence to the good and the beautiful aspects of life as a whole.  We are drawn magnetically to works of art even as they present the most tragic, painful and horrible dimensions of experience - because these works of art lend these dimensions some kind of meaning and order.  The love of art is a facet of an even more basic love of life itself - which partakes of a kind of shared sacred awe reaching back to the origins of the human race (and maybe before that).

The making and experience of poetry is part of this magic circle of a very primordial sense of awe.  The poetic Word is free, dynamic, holistic and sacred, because it partakes of this powerful aura of a sort of ontological First Principle of reality - the "ground", the source.

By no means would I wish to suggest or have anything to do with a sort of Heideggerian mystagogy or irrationalism.  But I feel that, precisely because poetry is linked with this very basic and universal, this "anthropological" first principle - an innate sense of awe before the wholeness, oneness and power of life - it therefore aligns with the universality of reason, logic and science.  Reason (as Fichte, Brightman and of course many others have argued) is both analytical and synoptic.  We analyze to apprehend and distinguish; we synthesize to understand.  Poetry is no different.  What poetry adds to this rational and philosophic drive toward comprehensive understanding is a kind of aesthetic reflexivity.  Poetry's vivid, personal, expressive verbal enactments of communication both represent and embody, simultaneously.  This extra layer of reflexivity, reverberation, and self-consciousness accounts for the intense configurations of poetic speech (Mandelstam's crystal of "terrifying density").  

As I understand it, poetry gives voice to a subjective, and inter-subjective, dimension of reality.  It is not opposed to science as such; but it suggests and evokes this awe, this attitude of humility toward the fundamental mystery of life.  As such it is vitalist, holistic, and personal - and it presents an image of reality as a whole which corresponds to these qualities.  The struggle of the Romantic movement, to transcend the discursive rationalism of the Enlightenment, presents one of the historic enactments of this duality (subject and object, detachment and wonder, poetry and prose). 

I recognize the perhaps absurd anachronism of these principles.  But with respect to my own poetic development, one of the issues or themes that I have found so fascinating and generative is the American history of the encounter between a colonial worldview, on the one hand, rooted in both Puritan piety and revolutionary democracy based on Enlightenment ideals, and a Native American worldview, rooted in very archaic notions of just this sense of pious awe before the vital spiritual unity of life.  And I began to delve into the "anthropological underside" of my own faith tradition, and recognize affinities with primordial myths and rituals played out across the globe, from which the Native American beliefs represent one branch, and the various sources of the "Old World", another.  So I sense that underlying the tragic conflict and the criminal inhumanities of that American history, there is this basic spiritual encounter, to be understood on an intellectual, philosophical, plane as well as a purely political or historical level.

Anyway, this notion leads into some of the thematic sources and ideas which undergird my lengthy journeys through the realms of the "American epic" or long-poem mode.

& now it's late, I must hit the sack - good night.

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