Wednesday, February 20, 2013

as intimately as if it were your own body

When I start to write, I’m not a guide or teacher; I’m not even a poet. I’m a person far out at sea, and the poem is a raft made of whatever floats past in the water. Those almost accidental rescuing pieces are words, rhythms, musics, ideas, the memory that is mine and the memory that is all of ours and the memory that is held in language itself. The experience of writing, for me at least, isn’t confidence or wisdom; it’s closer to desperation. You are naked as Odysseus when he’s lost his ship and all his men, before he’s met by the courageous young girl Nausicaa—a version perhaps of the rescuing muse, who helps us find our way back into the world shared with others but only if we bring our own resourcefulness to the situation as well. There is some faint memory that this raft business has worked before, some memory of knot-tying, of the intention to live. There is that in us that recognizes: “this is water; this is land.” A poem is land found, as if for the first time. If I already knew what it would hold, I wouldn’t need the poem, and if what it holds were knowable by any other words or way, I wouldn’t need the poem. 

 You have to welcome both your own strangeness and your own fierceness. And you have to have an ear, an eye, that will recognize when a poem has stumbled in its music, seeing, courage, or path, so you can know that you need to work with it further, to ask of it more.

[Poems offer] A door. One that stands outside our usual addresses and maps—or more truly, perhaps, many doors at once, that lead simultaneously outward and inward, into both the life we share with others and the privacy in which self can take stock with original eyes. I hope my poems might offer: “Here is one experience of life, of its possibilities, exhilarations, bewilderments, griefs. Enter. Now, here is another.” When we bring that spirit of openness, permeability, exploration, and courage into our lives and our hands, everything else follows: a deeper saturation and compassion, a recalibrating sense of proportion, an increase of the possible. Good poems make clarity without making simple. They do not erase darkness; if anything, they open into it.

It's odd perhaps that many of the moments in my life I'm most grateful for are those in which nothing seems to have happened. Yet everything that followed was changed by those moments outside of eventfulness, because I was changed. Thought takes time, feeling takes time. The deepest thought and feeling stop time entirely. You disappear into the poem, the painting, the mountain, the music, the idea, the emotion, the loved person. You disappear into action, even, as every athlete or dancer knows. And by that disappearance, you become your own fullest self, unlimited by ego or skin. Something in us recognizes the sanity of not being so worried about periphery and center. You emerge from those time-stopping moments more able to take care of both your own life and the lives of everyone and everything, which are also yours. If a slope in Patagonia is ruined by toxins or erosion, that's felt as intimately as if it were your own body.

~ Jane Hirshfield 
from an interview with Kim Rosen