Floating Off the Page

Poetry needs immediacy. Just about everyone agrees about this, hence so much writing in 1st person, present tense. What is less commonly considered in poetry’s demand for intimacy and just as real intimacy is difficult between real people, the intimacy between the poet and poem is equally challenging. This means honing in, bearing down upon the pen. Absolute fidelity is required. If we don’t bear down on the pen, go into the poetic experience so intensely that everything else disappears, we risk words floating off the page. For me my concentration must be so total, I risk shattering as if the page were a sheet of glass, a magnifying glass in which I must see the poem as pure transparency.

Intimacy begs for passion. Passion is what drives the wheel and poetry is circular more than linear, a round that resounds. I am utterly passionate about my work and I spend more time going at it, into it, through it than I do in any other area of my waking like. When I encounter words like detachment, I hear a guillotine drop. A severing occurs, words become disembodied, just parts of speech tossed about like body parts.

Everyday I make love with language, try to flesh it out ever so sensually. There’s an eroticism involved. Lovers know this. They muse into each other until nothing stands between them. That’s the secret—disappearing into the passion of the poem’s moment in time and that’s all we have, moments in time. Surrender is involved—to the light, the darkness and everything in between.

Distance. That’s another word that scares me. How many of us were taught we need to gain distance from our most intense experiences? Once again, I see words floating off the page. Poetry needs to driven, riveted to the very heart of our deepest, most powerful, most human acts. Doing this may feel like the flesh is being ripped off our bones, but backing off may lead to lines of steel. It’s easy to back off. Even my dog knows that command, but to stay in, truly in, ah that’s really something.

In Stanley Kunitz’s beautiful, absolutely intimate poem called “Touch Me” he asks, “what makes the engine go?” Immediately he responds with “desire, desire, desire.” He posits the cricket as the small machine that makes the engine go. Poets, then, as crickets making a solitary music by which they hope to mate with the world.

Filed under: Elizabeth Kirschner, Prose