Wednesday, February 6, 2013

To Build a Fire

Jack London's story of desperate struggle with nature is instructive -- fire as a necessary element and condition of being.

So, you're thinking about writing a poem and making it public? You will need to gather combustible materials and have nimble enough fingers to strike the living flame. Just because you're fired up yourself doesn't mean the poem will be an illuminated text.

A poem is -- should always be considered -- an attempt at producing a work of fine art. A something that burns with the flame of aesthetic significance. Say you want to compose a sonata or paint a vision. Deep absorption in the historical heat of those expressive disciplines should come first. A personal expression should appear in public only after the kindling of talent has cured to a proper stage of ignition (note to self). Rhythm, form, tonality, balance -- those elements also go into the complex and chemical making of a poem. As well as the mercurial power of suggestion over obvious statement. Those are all artistic elements.

If someone manages to create an aesthetically (spiritually) significant poem, that should be an occasion for global astonishment and international breaking news. Profounder than a scientific discovery, a true poem mysteriously burns through layers of perceptual occlusion, opens up a prospect onto farther moments of being, intenser reality.

Joseph Brodsky's Venetian Stanzas. Here, the glow of written art comes to us from the crucible of heightened sensibility. The chemics of experience and imagination react in these stanzas, heating up images into metaphors of time and moods of substance. The trivial is not spoken here. World momentarily un-dreams itself from the sleep of matter and heavy duration. It begins to spark and glimmer through the phosphorescent poem:

                           And in pawnbrokers windows
               jewelry catches fire.

               The window's sentient gauze gets fluttered by both exhaling
               and inhaling. A pale, silky foam lashes stiff armchairs and
               the mirror -- an exit for objects, ailing
               locally from their brown dead end.

                                                   -- from Venetian Stanzas II
London's protagonist perished in the Klondike. He was unable to build that primal fire. Perhaps he should not have put himself in such a perilous circumstance in the first place.

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