Friday, July 13, 2012

Poetry, the Ultimate Game, Spillway 18


A la poesía

Rama de rosal cortada,
escaramujos secos un gesto grotesco
como si la rosa fuese consumida
         por su propia llama,
ahora brota hojas nuevas.

Son así las palabras,
o como un vuelo de garzas —
¿serán del año pasado?
Su vuelo, nueva caligrafía
         lo dice de nuevo.

Cuando uno pensaba
         que ya lo había dicho todo
                  llegan las palabras.

De la celebración no hay fin.

      © Rafael Jesús González 2012 

                (Spillway 18, Summer 2012)




To Poetry

A cut rose branch,
dry hips a grotesque gesture
as if the rose were consumed
         by its own flame,
now sprouts new leaves.

Words are like that,
or like a flight of cranes —
are they last year’s?
Their flight a new calligraphy
         says it anew.

When one thought
         he’d said it all
                  the words come.

Of celebration there is no end.

              © Rafael Jesús González 2012 

                                              (Spillway 18, Summer 2012)


Poetry, the Ultimate Game

Once, for a graduate writing seminar, I asked my students to write down their theories of poetry. If I could understand entirely the sources of my request (or assignment, if you wish), I could come closer to defining poetry myself. But I would be hard put to say why poetry should be defined at all. Let us say because it poses a problem, because I like problems I can play with, because I like games, and since poetry, like life, has no solution, its game is interminable. Now whether poetry and life can be defined as “problems” depends upon our states of consciousness and that constitutes the very nature of the game.

Consciousness - here is where the game starts. And ends. In the beginning was the word and whether the word was made or the word made, we cannot know. Sanskrit (samskrita), name of the most ancient language we know something about, is formed of the past participle of kar, “to make” (cognate of “create” through the Latin “creatus”) and proposition sam, “together” (cognate of “same”) and is to be understood as “completely formed” or “accurately made, polished, refined: with “speech” originally expressed or understood with it. And from language, poetry (from the Greek poiein, “to make.”) The poem is language, speech, in the act of creating or being created - consciousness entering into form. Chaos (the Absolute) entering into order, the differentiated (the relative.)

Going back, not to chaos, the Absolute we have lost contact with but its first-born, Eros, desire, who has not, in love or in need (sometimes difficult to tell one from the other), sought for the one sign, symbol, word to encase the universe of that need, that joy, that pain? (At this point we are talking of the sacred, which I will define as that which confounds us precisely because it makes us so acutely aware of life in all its joy, beauty, and pain. Love, then, is the most sacred of our experiences, which orients or disorients us depending on how we experience it.

At this point, out of touch with true chaos, ground of all possibility, disorder threatens, we become vulnerable and stand at the abyss of our aloneness. We feel we drown and clutch at a straw, poetry, a straw that through some magic becomes a lifeline. We know of those for whom poetry was not enough, but I often wonder how many poetry could have saved had they been able to use words to order their experience. For poetry is a naming of the abyss and to name something is to somehow check its power. (I maintain that there is no man or woman who has not, some time or other, in the darkness of a closet, whether he or she has written or no, been a poet.)

Poetry has been called magic and has been put to the uses of magic (consider the rune and the chant from which we get enchantment), but don't let's confuse mystery with magic. Poets may indeed be magicians of sorts, but more so, to use Jerome Rothenberg's term, technicians of the sacred.  (They have also been called legislators, philosophers, priests, tricksters, etc., etc., but “poet” includes them all.) In Mandarin China, poetry was a major part of the examinations for any magistrate and in Mexico the Nahuas looked for truth, neltiliztli, “that which stands, which lasts”, not in the desiccated and docile fact, but in “flower and song”, in xóchitl in cuícatl, poetry, simply because it is in the multifaceted symbol that we must look for truth, for the simple sign with which we codify a fact is much too narrow to allow the full richness of the boundless universe to illumine the heart and mind. The Huicholes know of what they speak when they say, “our symbols make us rich.”

A serious business, poetry. But let's not confuse seriousness with a solemn mien. We give sacredness a grave face perhaps because in our confusion we have made pain the measure of value. (“No pain, no gain” type of thing. The more pain something has cost us, the more we value it.) But the sacred can also be laughed at. (The fact that there is so much laughter at the sacred rites of the Huicholes has often been baffling to some western anthropologists.) Remember, the poet is also trickster and even now I play a game. It is a game of mirrors, each reflective or transparent according to our need. The poet plays with words so that suddenly truth will flash at us even though we may peer at it, as Plato would have it, "through a glass darkly.” It is a game that sharpens our wit, our imaginations, our honesty, our feelings, our wisdom - in a word, our consciousness, for poetry is not so much a matter of expression as it is a matter of perception. It doe not so much isolate and analyze (which is more a function of fear) but combines and synthesizes (which is more a function of play.) Poetry, life, is a serious game whose seriousness and gameness will not be enhanced by a solemn face nor diminished by laughter. Poetry is a knowing, a making, a playing. (We humans define ourselves as homo sapiens, but we are firstly homo fabers , and even more so homo ludens.)

What is most important behind poetry is dark, radiant, secret, ineffable. Poetry is sound playing with meaning knowing that the absolute, eternal silence from which it comes has no meaning except the game it undertakes when it creates voices. Poetry is a tautology. Poetry is a mirror pretending it reflects a flower, a landscape, a face, when in reality it reflects only itself. Poetry is like any other object - a plate, a piece of fruit, a boot - except that whatever uses it pretends, only one is at its roots: our vindication.

© Rafael Jesús González 2012


No comments: