Friday, June 21, 2013

poet Mike Finley wrecks my head

They say the exception proves the rule. That's too deep for me. It's like how I would have no idea what to say to a psychiatrist if one asked me: "What does it mean for a rolling stone to gather no moss?" I have no galumphing idea, and my mind would go blank. So in general, I'm not fond of logic or its aphoristic presentations.

The exception proves the rule. No, it injures my head. I prefer consistency. 

Over there -- in Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia -- they write poems in such a way that I'm taken aback. They fall into my head and tell it strange things. Many of those poems are aesthetic creations of the highest order. They are not expressions of ego, neurosis, depression, banality, irritable blathering. Rather, they move toward something almost mystical -- embodied spirit observing the everyday and uncovering the marvelous within it.

Think Wisława Szymborska:  

Miracle Fair

Commonplace miracle:
that so many commonplace miracles happen.

An ordinary miracle:
in the dead of night
the barking of invisible dogs.

One miracle out of many:
a small, airy cloud
yet it can block a large and heavy moon.

Several miracles in one:
an alder tree reflected in the water,
and that it's backwards left to right
and that it grows there, crown down
and never reaches the bottom,
even though the water is shallow.

An everyday miracle:
winds weak to moderate
turning gusty in storms.

First among equal miracles:
cows are cows.

Second to none:
just this orchard
from just that seed.

A miracle without a cape and top hat:
scattering white doves.

A miracle, for what else could you call it:
today the sun rose at three-fourteen
and will set at eight-o-one.

A miracle, less surprising than it should be:
even though the hand has fewer than six fingers,
it still has more than four.

A miracle, just take a look around:
the world is everywhere.

An additional miracle, as everything is additional:
the unthinkable
is thinkable.

The tragic nature of being is implicit in some of those over-there poems, yet the art, symbols,  and soul of them are powerful enough to perform redemption. That's what the best poetry does: the reader is delivered from the mundane, opened to the uncanny, redeemed by the aesthetic.   

Tomas Tranströmer, Adam Zagajewski, Ilya Kaminsky, others who are still living. (Yes, Kaminsky lives and writes here now, but I still consider his poems to be over-there poems.)

A general Old World tone of voice sounds in their poems. An acoustic that is outside ego, as if a space has been opened between self and world. This complex voice requires a subtle cadence, which is an intrinsic, natural aspect of the over-there poems.  

If I can't write poems of such quality, then by god, neither should anyone else over here be able to! The Atlantic Ocean should remain the medium of separation between the aesthetic sensibility of over-there and the lack of it here. No exception should snorkel its way through.

But then there's Mike Finley. Not content with simply writing more American poetry -- the stuff that journals over here think is readable, like the poems of Natasha Trethewey -- he must also write good poetry. He must also write poems that see into the mystic, sound with an aural uncanny, move with an austere Modernist cadence. As if he is willfully trying to wreck my head by being an exception to the rule that current American poetry is dismal, inartistic, suffocating.

Finley is also a videographer. He incorporates that into his poetics. Below are examples. 

Some people say that a poem should stand alone. That it doesn't need a guitar strumming in the background during a reading or an image to complement the text. I think Finley's video poems are his dynamic way of opening up a quasi-mystical space within a culture traumatized and distracted by greed, industry, banality. 

As stand-alone text, the mystic of his poems might get lost in the general American psychosis, in the noise of general American poetry. The videos are a way of saying, "Atmosphere and ambiance are possible, and since this is a society of the spectacle, I'll just have to show you how a poem should comport itself." Or maybe they're his way of making it new.

Leaving Bordeaux

Water Hills

Mike Finley abides in Saint Paul, Minnesota 


  1. Whoa ... was this sweet to read ... I wrote out an obituary for myself this past week, and i realized all I really cared about anymore was my wife, my children, and the occasional connection I make doing this. Occasional makes it sound more common than it is! I also like my dog.

    Thanks Tim. You break my brain too!

  2. Please keep pushing at that concrete wall. I hope you break on through to the other side. Into much wider recognition.