The Many Faces of Poetry: The Poetry BookPosted: September 25, 2019
I keep a volume of poetry. It’s my book, it contains all the poems that have survived fifty years of writing poetry. There are two hundred fifty six pages in this book. It contains some twenty seven thousand words. These aren’t all the poems I’ve written. Not even close. They’re the poems that have SURVIVED to take up residence in this book called, simply, Collected Poems. If I could have avoided loss through theft and mischief, I would probably have a book of collected poems at least a thousand pages long. But I did lose these hundreds of pages. They were stolen, they were lost, they were even held hostage for cocaine and heroin. They were burned in front of me. I’ve lived a colorful and dangerous life.
Sometimes I leaf through this book, evaluating and enjoying. “Oh this is good,” I tell myself. Or, “this really sucks”, or “mmm, maybe”. Everyone’s work exists on a continuum. My continuum has a couple of occupants that stay at the top, always. Probably my very favorite poem is titled, “Prophet”. Here it is.
Oh lord, oh lord,
what has befallen me?
That which I hoped to make straight
becomes more twisted.
That which I should understand
only becomes more strange.
How did I land on this unexpected shore?
What am I to make of the walking wreck of myself?
I can still think, still work,
still speak in poems
in the sleepless time of the night.
It is a mixed gift, this life, it is hard
to feel so completely lost
in complexity I don’t know how I made.
I wanted to be a radiance
but I am more like a garbage can
tipped by a starving animal in predawn hours.
I pick myself up,
I sweep my contents
into a tidy pile,
but each time I think to rest,
I am again overturned.
I speak to you, o lord,
like the wounded Jew,
like the baffled bloodied prophet,
like the broken fated sage.
I take help from any quarter,
even those with dangerous denizens.
I take comfort with the scorpion,
I sleep with diseases,
I’m astonished that I’ve survived.
Oh lord, what has befallen me?
You see, I have nothing but questions.
It could be much worse, I freely admit.
It could be much better,
I ruefully entreat.
Pieces of me have gone numb.
Whole continents of my psyche are submerged,
I am the world I have made.
I am a man, dreadfully incomplete,
unwilling to meet the terror,
reluctant to behold the fire,
shrinking always from the worst case,
taking the hand of any wiser being,
like a lost child who needs to be led home.
I shall try now to snatch a bit of sleep
from the bottom of the night’s cup.
I’m glad we had this little talk.
I thank you, awkwardly,
like one who has opened the wrong gift
at the wrong party.
Oh, is this for ME?
I’m not quite sure it fits,
I’m not sure how to use it.
I’ve broken it a little
but it still works. See?
I’ve tried, I’ve hopped on one foot,
I’ve danced insanely.
I’m still here,
waiting for your soft voice
to bring me peace.
What have I done in this poem? I’ve confessed to god that I’ve screwed up my life. I’ve cried out to heaven in my stunned incomprehension: what happened to me? I wanted to be a saint and I wound up being a demon. I have understood that in this world the ground is never steady under my feet. I’m always being blind-sided, rear-ended, fender-bended, slipping up, falling flat, missing a step, losing the beat, having four flats and forgetting the spare at home. I have grasped the existential paradox of living in the world. I am praying to accept it and find the strength to move forward. So…Where does that leave me?
Dancing like a madman in broken shoes.
There’s a line in this poem that catches me and catches me and catches me, stunning in its ferocity. “I take comfort with the scorpion, I sleep with diseases”. It refers to the insane risks that I took during a certain period of my life. I wound my way through a world of poisoned needles. Yet I survived. I have little doubt that poetry helped me to survive.
A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good. His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.
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