Rhea & Chronus by Elsa Dax

I struggle endlessly with the concept of form vis-à-vis formlessness in poetry; the continuum from the palpable, understandable word to the abstract, disjointed use of it. The struggle—mine—is quite simple: it is a failure to understand how and why words register or do not register in my heart as expressions of sentiment. (Or, said another way, as symbols, icons, codes that spark in me: “feeling”.) It is what I come to poetry for; I seek no other form of enlightenment, no education, no M.P.A. It is not words themselves perhaps that cause such spark to occur or not to occur; it goes beyond my ability—limited or otherwise—to understand meanings from the interconnectedness of words, from their disjunctions, their cadences, silences?, their “throbbing”, as Ron Silliman might say. What is the structure, the unity, the magic that works the trick of feeling in me?

Am I the perusing man that in light of evolution stands flabbergasted at his lack of feeling before an abstract painting where the lines, the colors, the geometry do absolutely nothing for him? Or is “nothing” the “feeling” he is to walk away with? I’d say it is the feeling he is to walk away from. Am I she who dismisses a work’s abstractness because the brush strokes, harsh upwards, and the choices of color, clashing, come through the hand and mind of a monkey instead of a man with equal success? How facile and odious the comparison, but as Ramón del Valle-Inclán noted beware the day when poetry will simply be the setting down of one word after another, without more.

Juan de Mairena through the voice of Machado said that one of the most efficacious means by which art can be made not to change inside, in its interior and substance, is to renew it—or to scramble it—constantly on the outside. That being the reason why original artists would hang, if they could, the poets of a new generation, and why the newbies stone, when they can, their original predecessors.[1] This is true, it seems, of all generations, in all countries and cultures. Wordsworth was stoned in his day as was Whitman.

As I pondered in silence,

Returning upon my poems, considering, lingering long,

A Phantom arouse before me with distrustful aspect,

Terrible in beauty, age and power,

The genius of poets of old lands,

As to me directing like flame its eyes,

With finger pointing to many immortal songs,

And menacing voice, What singest though? It said,…[2]

Wordsworth himself said that “every writer, in so far as he is great and at the same time original, has the task of creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed.”[3] So is the word that triggers no feeling in me today to shake the foundations of future generations tomorrow? I am the man who called Wordsworth a language poet centuries ago. Tendencies change, schools of thought dominate, then die. In the end we are left with the poem—dressed in sheep’s skin?—and the word: turned, tossed, washed, dried. Does one ever kill the father, his word,—tearing him to pieces—, as the Galician poet Rafa Villar said to his generation in the 1990’s?[4] And does the killing proceed, in part, in the form of formlessness and abstraction?

I’m gladly afraid the sonnet isn’t dead (anymore than the traditional novel or the three act play). Imagine our existence without the precise 22-minute sit-com; the Hollywood flick without the car chase; the rock ballad without the electric guitar solo. I feel safe. There can be no poetry without form, without minimal structure, i.e., the structure of a single word?, or taken to extremes, of a single “,” or, further, a single blank page?)—methodically placed between multiple blank pages—of a manuscript aptly titled “Snow Amid Cadences”. (Hasn’t this been written yet?) Extremes in form must necessarily threaten every art form and the reader’s ability to digest it.

I am therefore not bound by the chains of my ignorance. I may yet be saved. Though the muse may come to some “with a ruler, a pair of compasses, and a metronome”[5], I may also be bemused by the goddess that walks bare-ass naked in the woods flicking rose petals randomly. I remain willing to lick drops of dew from the cup of her hand. Shall I be enlightened or killed by poisoned dew?

[1] Juan de Mairena, Antonio Machado, Bibliotex, S.L., © 2001, p. 134.

[2] “As I pondered in silence”, Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman.

[3] “Poets, Critics and Readers”, No Other Book, Selected Essays by Randall Jarrell. Ed. Brad Leithauser, © 1999, p. 225.

[4] In December 1996 Rafa Villar presented in Santiago de Compostela his lecture “Theory of Poetic Generations: To kill the father. To tear him to pieces and bury him in burned limestone so that the only remembrance that he will leave us will be the verses that inspired us.”

Jarrell at 250.