Years ago, I somehow wrote a post about my version of The Function of Art. Today, I learned a little about the function of poetry.
From today's edition of The World:
The Politics of Poetry
Another art form is under scrutiny from another group of arbiters of taste. In Britain, the Queen's English Society says it's fed up with modern poetry. These guardians of the English language say it's not a poem if it doesn't have rhyme or meter. That's open to debate. Which leads us to ask: what is a poem? The World's Alex Gallafent has the answer, or rather, the answers:
Sometimes a poem is an ode to love by Pablo Neruda or some nonsense verse by Lewis Carroll. It could be a sonnet from Shakespeare or a howl from Ginsburg. It can be all these things and more. So, sure we could talk about the rules of poetry, whatever they might be. But instead let's consider the function of poetry.
Yesterday is with you now
the same train
the same grandmother
the same forefathers
now you may cry the bitter tears of anguish
now you may howl with the primitive howl of a lost soul
now you may embrace
Now, you may like Terry Waite's poetry; you may not. But it's a good guess that writing it had value for Mr. Waite.
Here is an architecture of air.
Where dust is cleared,
nothing stands but free sky, unlimited and sheer
Smoke's dark bruise
has paled, soothed ...
[Mr. Armitage] "There seems to be an urge to communicate through poetry and poetry has always had some kind of responsibility right down the edges. Every now and again, the moment seems right to put things down in words."
So, poetry can be some kind of record - a detailed snapshot in language. And it doesn't have to come from full-time professional poets. Take for example Malaysian lawyer Cecil Rajendra : when he's not practicing law, he's practicing his poetry and he enjoys it: "The language of law is very ossified and stilted language, whereas in poetry, the language is more creative - it's more dynamic."
Here's part of Rajendra's poem, Apologies to the Trees:
...if only politicians were trees
think how our budgets and diets would be balanced
their fruit, flower, roots, and leaves could give such rich sustenance
and what a bonus it would be
if we the constituents could hack them down each time they became a nuisance
politicians were trees...
[Now, you may like Mr. Rajendra's poem; you may not ~ but if you have never heard of Cecil Rajendra, I urge you to read more about this fascinating social justice lawyer-slash-political poet.]
. . .[Finally], all poets ... should listen to this wisdom from the late Mexican poet Octavio Paz:
....al poeta lo conocemos tanto por sus palabras como por sus silencios. Desde el principio el poeta sabe, obscuramente, que el silencio es inseparable de la palabra....
...poets are known both for their words and their silences. From the beginning the poet knows that silence is inseparable from the word....
Good advice for poets and politicians.
[Note: I didn't transcribe the entire report. There are two more poems included, and you can listen to the entire 4+ minute report, here or other stories from The World, here. The lovely image is by Edric Hsu.]
Ë Ë Ë Ë
In 2005, Waite gave a lecture in Maadi, Egypt about his experiences in solitary confinement for four years in Beirut. The title of his lecture was 'Survival in Solitude'. Waite described his survival technique, of having to learn to live from within:
As Waite saw his physical body disintegrate he knew he had to learn to live from within. In his mind he ‘wrote’ poetry and thought of books he knew well. He used the language of his mind to create harmony in his soul. Your whole life is in your head, really; you cannot see, hear, think, talk, etc., without your mind. Therefore, you must use creative imagination to keep your soul going, but you must also discipline the mind so that it doesn’t run away from you and think of the worst possible scenario. Also, he said it is important for everyone, at some point in life, to be self-centered; not to be selfish, but to know the self. When you do this, you realize the dark side of your self along with the light side, and you must face it. You cannot focus on obliterating the darkness, but rather embrace your humanness and heighten your lightness for the world.
And so, I remain primarily silent ~ nothing much here tonight is original thought; you can hear it and read it on the Internet (and I really hope you click on some or all of the links when you have time). I want only to share with you a little of what I heard today ~ a little food for thought in case, like me, you didn't have dinner; a snippet of what ran through my thoughts today and continues to mill about my mind as the northern California wind boldly howls outside, rattling the window panes as forcefully as it thunders through my thoughts ~ and this moment seemed right to put into words ~ so that, without speaking, without meeting, without knowing ... we share something.