Poetry and prose are writing in the flow, in the flood of your experience, your teeth clenched around it. We should be trying to retrieve the ‘energia’ within ourselves, the unbearableness of reality, that Alice Oswald tries to retrieve in her retelling of the Iliad. She took the roof off the church to better see we what she was worshipping. We should peel back the skin, to better see the clenched muscles beneath. Because we’re all obsessed, we’re all whores to something, to things we can’t escape. We should pull out the coil of words twisting those muscles tight. And those images, that fixation shouldn’t be kept hidden, it needs to sing on the page.
We are lifted away like ash, said Oswald, ‘wanting to be light again/ wanting this whole problem/ of living to be lifted/ and carried on a hip.’
But it takes an image to do it, to melt us away.
‘Grief is black it is made of earth/ it gets into the eyes…’ sings Oswald.
Wreathed in yawning whirlwinds/ we fly into our blackness, I say.
We carry care like alms/ sheaths of dead men’s legs/
‘Like leaves who could write a history of leaves,
The wind blows their ghosts to the ground…’ Says Oswald.
Borrowed bled and blameless,
The worry-sled of churning gut-waves
Marching men to madness.
Pretty sorrow-slave with dirty knees
Best wipe its mouth….. I sing.
Poems should burn our tongues. The words should scold our red stems as we try to roll over them. Making us stop, making us swirl the soft-sharp shards around our mouths. Writing is experience and exploration, not metonymy alone, a link and shift of hurt and hope, and reaction after reaction.
Art should strike silence into us… like a hammer.
Words are brutal, poetry is brutal, like Plath says:
‘What a thrill –
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge
A flap like a hat,
Then that red plush. (Cut)
We are pierced and rent and utterly ruined, all by a word, by a word, by a word. Because the poet is the poem, regardless of what they intend.
You cannot extract experience. I can read you there in the lines, seeing the paper of your skin draped over the bones of your lines. Whether I will it or not, we are related, because language relates us. Relational energia?? If we are in communion with the living and the dead alike, then looking at the stars is like remembering, dead things still shining. But remembering is painful.
Frank O’Hara didn’t want to waste an experience, (everyone seemed cheated of some marvellous experience, which wasn’t going to be wasted on him!) so he told it. He could take me for a coke, and to the gallery, and not look at a single painting, but the brushstrokes of my face. And he would still only be writing a self-portrait. No matter what personalism we are trying, there is no true abstraction, because we are forever writing to ourselves, love letters, and reminders and self-realising truths. Line by line, over and over, we are only really writing to ourselves.
We could be obsessed with a thousand year old pile of stone, or the first fledgling snowdrop, ‘streams sawing through hills
Cutting grass into islands,’ as Oswald hummed (in Memorial), but there is always pushing back, and reaching in, and hands in the mud-mirror.
We’re all confessing really, with our tongues curled about the plucked down stars, or yesterday’s lies, or this morning’s kiss. So best write it down, spit it onto the page, before it’s soothed away to the calm sea of netted language, before you tell yourself it’s just a poem, and you wash away the taste.
In answer to Oswald’s line: …’to carry you light as ash’:
(I am ) living, and lived
And let out.
Sore balloon moan,
Child’s misplaced adventure token,
A drunken bladder,
Swaying above the hedge of the maze
Seeing every wrong step coming
Till I am momentary forgotten
And slip and sail unheld
Dying in the picture
As a red spit in the compass of the sky.
That same picture in every adult’s mind,
As he turns and glances down the spire
Of his unachievements
To that first loss that spelled the end of him.
Poor balloon moan,
Baffoon shaped heart,
As if love was air,
Light and contained like milk.
The map in your palm,
The map in your blood, in your belly
You hum with it,
Thrumming thank yous
As you beam back at the sky.
You can see your pyre ready,
The twisted twigs
And curling leaves of all your memories,
And here the torch,
That will make you a beacon.
The glow of bone-pyre night.
Lo, the sweeping sighs
That will explode like working fire,
The projected woop
Of your smile
A red line in the swollen black eye of the night.
And you will fall,
Like ash into their mouths,
Hot drops of fat to be lapped at,
Wiped from leather shoulders,
Smeared like battle cries across rosy cheeks.
All the children spreading out your arms,
Craning back their heads, open-mouthed.
Here, you say,
In a falling ash-snow, in grey snowflakes
And you are gone.