I stole the title for this piece from Ira Sadoff, a title I came across long ago and faithfully recorded in what I call my Nickel Notebooks. These are old composition books in which I record poems by other poets, their musings and reflections and thereby remain in training as the apprenticeship for the poet is a long one and for me, at least, it is a lifelong quest, a lifeline I hope will extend beyond me.
The poem, then, as a paradise of shifting traumas bears truth as it arrived way before the word trauma became the be all and end all word of my generation. Trauma is real, this much I know, it has force and passion as did my mother’s violence, my father’s, too. The penetration and perpetration of ever multiplying violations was their particular genius, their gift and I was schooled in it—desecrated, wasted, I was beat into being till I became insane by learning how to go away, very far away. Somehow in the midst of all this wild violence, the horrific deified me. I was clearly a child of God and this was my salvation as I was thrust onto the crux of creation. Their gift translated into my gift and much like a nun, I took the holy vow to live by, through, with the almighty word.
I pound words into the poem as though each were a piano key. I run scales up, run scales down, trying beyond my powers to hit the right note. There’s a violence behind that power that can be either catastrophic or self-annihilating. Just as I did as a child, I go away in order to make way for the poem’s dramatic and sometimes traumatic birth. Think of muse as predatory, the words nearly suicidal, craft the only bridle to rein in stampeding words, lines, stanzas.
Craft as crisis—that’s a hunk of thought. Yet time and time again, the sense of barely surviving the poem persists. Still and absolutely entering the poetic realm is a Dantesque paradise. I think I always want a little hell in my heaven and a little heaven in my hell. Poetry does that for me. Not just writing it, but glory of glories, in reading it. I wonder—is the poem as it detonates, resonates, sparks, flares—a celebration of crisis? Think of the tension between the bow and the arrow, the poem and its audience. In the end we’re still hunters and gatherers and that’s what we do when we write poems, read poems.
I want to be hammered home by the poem, seduced by truce. A paradise of shifting traumas then is what the poem does as it shape shifts into a critical creation. Each of us is, by and large, a critical creation and I was crushed into creating mine. It took, as does the poem, a fierce ferocity, willingness to be in a living hell until it gives way to a living paradise.
As a woman, as a writer, I keep one foot in each—dancing feet, poetic feet—the iamb the pump, the heartbeat, and mine kicks as it ticks as did my son before he was born. When I pushed him into the Eden of my existence, muse became midwife and spirit guide in the mystical passageways of life inside the poem and outside the poem and o how I love my beautiful Baudelarian hell and my equally beautiful blue Neruda heaven.