Wednesday, July 25, 2007


In 1948, Anglo-Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen (1899 - 1973) wrote a fifteen page critical text on her personal creative process in an early anthology containing various authors views on the nuts and bolts in their how-to of writing; and reading this:

"The novel lies, in saying that something happened that did not. It must, therefore, contain uncontradictable truth, to warrant the original lie" - I was struck by Shelley's, Defense of Poetry; where he talks about poetry being:

"..a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.."

A lie (fiction) being conjured and kinked by the writer's imagination, such that it's imprinted reflection imports into the readers mind, some poetic or wider universal truth; more hinted at, not explicit, and with an unseen, implicit gravitas, absent and buried in the text as the psychic weight of a knowing creational mind.

The effect we can imagine produced when a féath fíadha, or druidic mist of invisibility was conjured by the filidh, back in the time when fiction and fact mixed, appearing on the pages time forgot, in old irish manuscript, where i found my own answers and myth hoard, still perfectly working, supremely poetic, oiled to roar of eternal truths, and a gift from Ogma, the islands' god of poetry in both Brythonnic and Goidelic culture.

Shelleys quote, and indeed his Defense of Poetry, is written in lingo far deeper than - what George Szirtes calls - the quotidian "linguistic aggregate," of everyday speech.

And this got me thinking of my own poetic, or critical abc of the poetic act and Art; the initial and founding two thirds of which, came after reading Heaney's 1986 T.S. Eliot memorial lecture at the Univeristy of Kent, in which he dissects and decodes Wordsworth's poem - There Once Was A Boy - to illustrates his own philosophy on the basics. This is the poem recalling Wordsworth in his childhood, making owl calls in wild lakeland woods, around which Heaney constructs his case.

I will not outline the other influence, save to say it is American poet Amiri Baraka's piano analogy, which parallels Wordsworth and Heaney's poetic, in which he also expounds and advocates a three stage development to explain how a poet ascends to eloquence.

Heaney's essay is on Plath and appears in one of his two collections of critical prose writing, Finders Keepers: The Indefatigable Hoof Taps: whose submrged yet simple and deftly sophisticated three point logic, i detected when reading George Sziertes' eloquent skating metaphor in his T.S Eliot address in 2005.

As mentioned, this text was a contributing intellectual third to the poetic i cobbled together, as my own three point take which charts the stages of poetic development, or as Heaney describes it:

"..poetic journey" of "three stages which seem to exemplify" the "three degrees of poetic achievment.."

Heaney's logic is very poetically persuassive, as he reduces the mumbo jumbo of less linguistically skillful poets - trying to pass off unconvincing and often confused critical prose as verbal beauty - to an easy abc of poetry; using Wordsworth's poem from Lyrical Ballads - as the core of his analogy - to effortlessly elucidate, in an affirmational register, what poetry is.

And Heaney explains his poetic in deceptively sophisticated, yet precise, straightforward terms and - most importantly - based on the grounds of a consummate positive belief, as opposed to defining his core poetic faith in oppositional terms, which many poets fall into the trap of doing. Saying "This is what poetry is not," rather than what it is.

Not bad going when dissecting a poet who committed suicide. A true pro, who uses There Once Was A Boy:

" a parbale of these three stages.." of poetic development in the chase for the magical linguistic gravitas only they who sincerely profess poetry possess.

And he takes the young wordy one tramping in the Cumbrian woods making owl calls; telling us:

"The first task of the poet" is "to learn how to entwine his or her hands so that the whistle comes out trumpet and tu-whit, tu-whoo..happy to perform this feat for its own sake, repeatedly, self-forgetfully and original act of making, the equivalent in the oral/aural sphere of.." making sand castles or mud pies.

And i concur, also believing that this is the first stage in ones career as a verse-smith, when we write our first poetry, and as Heaney says, go:

"Listen I can do it! Look how well it turned out! And I can do it again! See?"

The second stage in the trajectory to ollamh, is when the owls start returning our calls, us fooling the real thing, much as when we start getting into mags and being considered as genuine by other poets. Heaney describes this stage as:

"..the vale filling with the actual cries of owls responding to the boy's art," and "we have the image of the classically empowered poet, the one who has got beyond scale-practising..who rejoices in the spirit of life" as "..the owls in our own dream branches begin to halloo in recognition."

He goes onto describe how the third stage of poetic achievement, when the poet can no longer make the owl calls, "cannot make any noise with his hands" as Heaney described it, and is summed up in the Wordsworth poem:

"And, when there came a pause
Of silence such as baffled his best skill:
Then, sometimes, in that silence, while he hung
Listening...the visible scene
Would enter unawares into his mind
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and the uncertain heaven received
Into the bosom..


Heaney has a beautifull metaphor for this moment, describing it as:

" the bird of poetry at the glass pane of intelligence , seeing where it needs to go but unable to gain entry. But the windo glass is miraculously withdrawn and deep free swoops into the blue pool.."

Achieved as the poet is gifted - out of the blue - full sight of their myth kitty and eternal image/symbol hoard, by whatever gods their gods swear by in the music of what's happening in our career, as we ascend or nea, hear or not in the return of silence, what ghosts flit to us from the anima mundi.

This is the third stage, after we have become the bees knees at mimesis, and engaged in our call and return with the birds of poetic utterance, and - my spin is - that we reach the point where we have become so real to other poets/owls, that they no longer return the call, and we are left dumbstruck and unable to make the sound, and in this moment of complete surrender - when we believe the game is up and there will be no more return - we are rewarded for our slog, effort and imaginative faith by the gifting of whatever poetry gods one believes in; with the keys to the door of our myth hoard, along with our poetic garb, dress and badge of entry to the third and final stage of sound-development.

A peak few manage to ascend or conquer in their search for the nuts and bolts knowledge of song and the sound-scapes whose form is revealed only to they who dig and swim to the deepest and most lambent flame of ones inner linguist valency; where the aggregrate of language is at its least quotidian and the most fruitful routes to ones unique word-crop, cluster as the poetic reward.

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