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The Idea of Poetry as the Visible Rainbow
By Carolyn Zonailo

poetry as soul-making

     Over the years of sitting in Grant's Cafe or the Europa and talking poetry with Lewis Gretsinger, the questions have been asked: why write? what are you saying? what are your poetics? Lewis says he's trying to make a world, and that as poets we have to 're-invent the world.' Me, I want to be part of the world. I want to find out where I belong in the world, in the phenomenological world.

     I experience the dualities which are the subject of my writing; the duality of phenomenon & numen; physical & metaphysical; reality & dream; necessity & desire. The images in my poems are often from nature or the natural world (what I would call landscape) such as the ocean, the garden, flowers, trees, rocks, the land we live in, on. The dimension I'm exploring is the psyche, what James Hillman calls the soul as opposed to the spirit. I don't write in order to make a world (I'm not sure I can) but I do write to discover my relation to the world. The creative power of perception to some extent creates what is perceived but not subjectively—I'm talking about a phenomenological perceiving. What there is in the world forms a third entity: what I can actually know about the world.

     If I write to discover my relation to the world, I also write in order to see the world and to know it. Knowing and seeing, I am able to love the world. This involves the process of recognition. I could say I write poetry in order to recognize the world. This means to identify what it is I am seeing, knowing and loving. The most important element in perception is to close the gap as far as possible between what is perceived and what is actually there. The poem may have its origins in the realm of feelings but it proceeds through images. Poetry is thinking, but thinking through the psyche: the soul in thought, as in Keats' "working brain" in his "Ode to Psyche." Poetry is not a cerebral kind of thinking where the self and the world are perceived subjectively, via the intellect. It is the sense of self revealed through the soul. Psychological perception is able to identify what there is, outside the self, through the process of recognition. The goddess presiding over this activity is Psyche, the human soul made divine; the numinous revealed in the act of loving identification.

     Psychological "insight" is not a looking inward but a viewing of the world through the psyche—i.e., looking at the world with the eyes of your soul. In that way we can speak of Vision, where it is possible to see both cause and effect at the same time, and to see them as belonging inescapably together. Only by separating cause from effect have we been able to keep on making atom bombs and contemplating nuclear warfare.

     When poetry is seen as soul-making, there are no questions as to whether or not poetry is political, experimental or profitable. To practice poetry, as an art produced by the human soul, is to be part of the process of identifying and recognizing the world we are inescapably part of. Poetry is an essential human activity—not humanistic, but human—part of the condition of being human, and of having a soul. What we know through poetry can't be known through any other means... the collective body of poetry contains the collective knowledge of our souls.

the phenomenology of the image

     Up until this point we have used our intellects as a lid to cover up what it is possible to know. Now we must use all of our intellect as if it were a lever—to lever us into the imagination. George Orwell held that imagination and tyranny are mortal enemies. Imagination requires clear thought, but as Orwell warned, you can only think clearly when the language you use is clear language. When we bomb villages and call it 'pacification' or destroy people's homes and uproot them, calling it 'relocation', or when we make television dramas about nuclear destruction, we are using unclean language. We are engaging in Orwell’s "double think" when we carry two conflicting thoughts in our minds at the same time and believe both of them, regardless of cause and effect.

     Poets are concerned with language and with the responsibility of maintaining language. Poets may be the "unacknowledged legislators" and the "antennae of the race" but poets are also the housekeepers of the language. Like over-worked housewives or late night janitors, poets clean up the language after everyone else has used it. Poets polish and mend language. Politicians, profiteers, monarchs and monks all use language as a means to an end. In poetry language is used as an end result and never as a means. The act of using poetry as an end in itself is the act of maintaining it—of re-inventing language, refurbishing it and re-creating it, as in Pound's "make it new." Only a clear language will carry us into clear thought and into revisioning the world through our imagination. Poet as Maker may not be able to make the world, nor even to re-invent it, but the poet does make language, re-invent language, save language. Poetry maintains a language which enables us to recognize the world, to see it for what it is. And if we really can imagine the effect, we might be able to reconsider the cause.

Page: 1, 2 | Articles | The Idea of Poetry as the Visible Rainbow
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