Thursday, March 2, 2017

Poet Mike Finley -- boldly going where

I'm sort of addicted to the subtly beautiful and semi-mystical poems of Adam Zagajewski. Not all his poems delve into and create toward this effect. But those that do achieve their hold on me owing to his round-about, ostensible manner and quality of saying. Wrapped within that poetic quality is a persistent thematic pulse, which also attracts me. Beneath the banality, absurdity, and morbidity of existence teems another atmosphere of being that Zagajewski presents -- hope.

In my experience, Zagajewski's way toward the poetic and the mystical (are they not almost the same things?) is commendable. Most folks amenable to the poetic-mystical would, I think, appreciate Zagajewski's style and approach. But most folks -- including most readers of poems -- aren't interested in the strange and vague pulsing beneath the everyday. The notion that the world has somehow dreamed us from unknowable matrices of urge, change, music, heat, and psychism has little or no traction on the everyday mind.

So, anyway. Zagajewski pleases me because he has been touched by wonder and beauty, because he transforms the uncanny nature of experience into compact vessels of subtle words. The mystical is an after-tone or back-glow of experience in the foreground. It's an aura or residue. Time and substance are haunted. Apples in a cart on an old street seem to quietly gesture toward the ghostly miracles of ripening and presence.

Then there is another poet who doesn't deflect observations of beauty, wonder, and the mystic into a half-embarrassed, super-subtle reformatting of image and emphasis. He doesn't make those elements of being diffuse because of artistic "good taste." He confronts and presents those elements directly, as if an amateur prophet or unofficial priest.

This is remarkable and unsettling.

Mike Finley manages to directly say the strangeness, wonder, and significance of human being without being a pompous, tiresome jackass. Or without being a super-subtle Polish genius. Such a thing is almost impossible in poetry. Yet Finley, owing to some wakeful quality of spirit or visionary robustness -- pulls it off.

The radical mystic aspect of being that wafts through the ordinary, permeating experience with an implicit teleology activates his poem "Water Hills." First and final causes blend together paradoxically on the liquid horizon of inspired language. Finley doesn't mince words; he states the peculiar fact of the matter (actually, the rising and tides of matter itself). Yet those words vibrate toward us a fainter, unspoken suggestion concerning an invisible hope.

"Water Hills" is a kind of preachment, a heightened observance. The images are somehow documentary and metaphorical at the same time. More surprising, there's no weakening of intention or expression into irony. This is shocking. Nonetheless, we don't shriek and flee. We are, to the contrary, mesmerized during this poem. This is not usual. This is art.

Water Hills

Mike Finley abides in Saint Paul, Minnesota 


  1. Returning to this, I am surprised, again, by its unpretentious elegance.

    1. I wish I had said "unpretentious elegance" about Mike's poem.