Poetry for the numb. For the love of Marianne Moore
There are several ways of talking about poetry, without seeming to talk about it.
An oblique approach is always a good approach in the face of a topic’s saturation. So much has been written about poetry that to become an expert (if becoming an expert was a precondition to write about poetry with some authority) I will have to wait (read non-stop, live of water and sun) until the age of 52 just to finish reading all that has been written in Spanish, English, and Portuguese. I don’t have that level of specialization (even if I have been teaching, reading, and writing poetry and about poetry for 14 years), yet without ignoring the importance of the canon, (the importance of all these men’s work, and, more generally, of literature’s economy, historically plotting to authorize male figures) I have enlisted myself to at least try not to worsen the problem, and I have authorized myself to speak about poetry without more marks or indicators of authority than those that I assign to myself (and those granted by the university, a couple of presses and handful of journals). With and without authority, with an authority that despite having been obtained with work, hours of study, money invested in education, books, is founded explicitly or not in arbitrary decisions, I have authorized myself to write about poetry as if nobody had written about it before, as if I had not written and published about it before.
None of these procedures and preliminary notes are necessary (but I highly recommend the experiment, is like dropping 5 pounds and taking off running—so light!), but they allow me to introduce my first premise:
1) nothing is necessary.
There is a tradition of ways of talking about poetry, but we are not obligated to quote them to enter the genre.
2) Poetry exists to defend the indefensible. To build impossible syllogisms; to make it very hard dismissing the importance of that which nobody pays attention to.
In one of the two versions that I know of Marianne Moore’s poem “Poetry”, she writes:
“I, to, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle”
The body doesn’t need poetry to grief, be brief, breathing, eating, nesting…; poetry does not fulfill any essential function of our physical body, nevertheless, according to Moore, even if poetry does not play a key function in the preservation of the body or life, it may very well contribute to its survival.
Moore adds: “Reading it. however, with a perfect contempt for it,/one discovers that/there is in it/after all, a place for the genuine”
Where the “genuine” according to Moore, are “Hands that grasp, eyes/that can dilate, hair that can rise/(…)the bat/ holding upside down or in quest of something to/eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a stroll, a tireless wolf under a tree”
When good poetry holds the genuine, hosts the genuine, we are granted the privilege of looking at something rare, almost imperceptible to our naked eyes:
“These things are important not because a/high sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are/useful; when they become so derivative as to become unintelligible, the/same thing may be said for all of us—that we/ do not admire what/ we cannot understand”
Derivative: things become a by-product of themselves. In the written word, the world and everything that comes with it, in it, can become a copy of a copy of a copy of themselves.
What I like the most about Moore’s take on poetry is that she seems to be writing for poetry-numb-people. Sometimes I feel poetry-numb. It is not painful, it is just boring, and sad like a cold coffee. Surprisingly, poetry seems to be the only “remedy” for this condition.
Life survives or lives on only because it repeats and reproduces itself. We survive because we repeat ourselves, or what is the same, survival is repetition. Nothing repeats itself as the same, nothing survives in time identical to itself; finitude, erosion, change—in short—time does not leave anything unscathed. The “derivative” state of the word is a condition of our existence, a problem of time. We usually don’t perceive the minute differences in things or stop to observe them. Who has the time for it, after all? The best among poetry, the one that presents the world in such a way that we must look at it differently if we are going to look at it at all, can make of the blurry, derivative, imperceptibly singular world, something again unique and perceptible.
This is why I read it, to sober me up out of this numbness.