May 29 2019
My poems are always stimulated by the first line. The line appears in my head. I know it’s a poem, so I write the rest of it, then and there. I make a few tweaks, and I’m finished. Poetry is not an elaborate process for me. It just happens. I would be interested to hear how other poets go about writing, how their experience may differ from mine.
I was reading through the book that I regard as my “Collected Works”. It consists of poems that I considered worthy of putting down on paper or computer. The earliest poem goes back to 1965 and is a verbal commentary on a passage of music by John Coltrane:
The beast of the cosmos staggers,
wounded by the weapon
of its own life.
You may find this piece to be incomprehensible. Yet there it is, surviving in my book for more than fifty years. A piece that I love for its vivid image of a wildly animate universe, suffering through the changes that nature brings, accepting that life and death are intertwined. Stars live and die, galaxies too, even whole universes must come and must go. Coltrane played a long screaming guttural tone, a note suffused with paradox, with agony and triumph, and it captured my imagination. I kept returning to it, listening, and wondering, “Did I really hear that?” I did.
Out of curiosity, and to locate more fuel for this essay, I just googled “Poetry +Word Play” and I got a poem by Marianne Moore, a much-honored poet who is often associated with T.S.Eliot and e.e.cummings. This poem says a lot, so take your time.
I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a
high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
useful; when they become so derivative as to become
same thing may be said for all of us—that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician—case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and
school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance
of their opinion—
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.
I regard this as a magnificent poem. The subject is Poetry, and the play with words is so subtle and precise that we barely perceive it in the flow of the piece. She gives us a recipe for what is required for a collection of words to be a poem. She closes with the final ingredient, “Imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” She equates being a poet with being a magician. I can’t argue with that. I should put this poem on a T-shirt.
Here are two poems that play with words, poems that emerged from me as always, virtually without thought.
There is no part of you
that is not a whole.
There is no hole in you
that is not part of you,
whole and alive.
There is no whole without holes,
no healing without wounds
no making without
that which is a whole,
to begin again,
be born, again, whole.
What crying is this,
in the hole, in the hurt,
yearning to be whole?
Leave yourself alone,
quiet, make everything work
for you, everything,
the base and the noble,
the useless and the crucial,
whole is what is, resting in the center
of the hole.
The moment is the whale
that swallowed Jonah
deep inside the body
where the juices reside.
The whale swallowed the moment
deep inside Jonah
Jonah swallowed the whale’s moment
inside the deeps
the deeps inside
the deep’s inside.
Thank you once again for your attention. Let’s put this essay in the “hmmm” pile and move forward.
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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