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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Krishna Answers, What is Poetry?

"Light sustains you and breathes story into your future. It sets sail the letters of your karma, and with it the language of all existence, and so energizes the universe. Without light you'd be a frozen lump caught in a black hole. Without light, reality is inconceivable."

You said 'story'. Why a story?

"If you have any history at all, you have a story."

Why do you call history a story? It might after all be a history that is true!

"Yes it might. But whatever you say or think of yourself, it cannot be the same as what others think, or what will be though after time has passed. The only place where all facts are summed up exactly is within the body of existence itself . . . so anything else is therefor a reduction, or what I call a story. It is reduced, edited down. A story 'exists', as much as the 'reality', which it emulates. Editorialized, mythologized. History is more a 'story' than reality, but you can make the case that both are 'real'. It's useful to have history as a way to see the past. So again I ask you, what is your story?"

My story? I'm American. I'm not religious, I believe in the discoveries of science.

"Let me ask you this. Is the Earth alive according to your story?"

Well yes in a way. There is certainly life 'on' earth. But the mass of the earth isn't alive. Life has evolved on the surface, and in the oceans. It's a tiny thin film around a huge rock circling the sun.

"That's a good story. I like it. Do you believe that dust is alive? Or the cut stump of a tree? Or a rock?"

No. Not at all. The stump may have been alive at one time, before the tree was cut, whereas the rock wasn’t and isn’t alive at all. A dead body of a human being isn’t alive either.

"What of the tree stumps that have green shoots growing out of them. They are alive are they not?"

"Well yes."

"Or a dead log that has a living fungus growing out of it. . that is alive is it not?"

"Yes. I see your point. You're saying that it is not easy or really possible to draw a line between what is alive and what is dead."

"No. I'm not saying that at all. Let me ask you what is the difference between that which is alive, and that which is dead?"

Living things reproduce.

"Sand reproduces. It breaks into smaller pieces of sand."

Ah, but the smaller pieces of sand don't get large again.

"Nonsense. . . . the cycle of geology is endless. Sand compacts into layers and reforms into rocks under heat and pressure. Sand becomes rocks, and and rocks become sand. Stars burst and fall apart and explode and become stars again.”

Well a living organic thing thinks. Sand doesn't think. Neither do stars. A living thing makes adjustments in order to survive.

"Let me ask you a question. You write poetry but do you know what poetry is?"

Poetry is a literary art form designed to evoke an aesthetic or evocative response in addition to it's apparent meaning. I got that from Wikipedia.

"So then a short story or a novel should also be considered poetry should it not? Both of these provoke aesthetic responses. They have an apparent meanings separate from the feelings they evoke . .  but there is something 'else' as well."

You're right they do. But they are not poems. They are much longer.

“How can length have anything to do with it. Maybe you think form is the primary difference. Many poems dwarf many stories. Some of the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges read like poems. In fact some are. What is the difference then?"

You're getting into some difficult territory. We can't cover this easily or quickly. You have to read more poetry to find the answer. But most scholars of Borges easily agree which of his works fall into which category.

“I've read everything written since the beginning of history and remember every word. Here's a bit of a poem I've shortened."

It's not a poem if you've shortened it.

"No? Don't all essential things retain their essence when divided? Granite is still granite when it breaks into sand."

But life cannot be broken in two pieces.

"No? Tell that to a cactus. Cut it into a hundred pieces and it will be grateful. Plant any piece you want."

Well there are differences between living things and non-living things. I'll think on it and let you know. What were you going to say about the poem?

"It's a fragment. I've cut it down. Here's what I've got:

     On the crupper of a blue horse
     A boy in years, a man in deeds
     By nightfall, food for ravens.

"Now would you call this a poem, or a story?”

It’s a poem.

“Why? It tells a story, in a very matter of a fact way does it not.”

Yes but it is clearly a poem. The words that are used. The ‘crupper’ of a blue horse. Horses aren’t blue.

“They can be. The ancient Celts who wrote this often painted their horses blue before going into battle. We agree that he died in a war do we not?”


“But where does it say ‘war’ or ‘sword’ or ‘killed.’ Nowhere. It just says a young boy who was brave was on a horse and implies that he was food for ravens. It doesn’t even say that he was killed and then became food for ravens. It could have been a sentence that was cut off.”

That's silly.

"No it isn't. It's my loose interpretation of a very tiny part of a famous Welsh poem called the 'Goddodin', by Anuerin."

All right you win. What makes it a poem?

"Let’s try something else first. What is the difference between a car and a motorcycle?"

Now you are being silly. A car has four wheels, and a motorcycle has two. A car usually carries one to four people and a motorcycle usually only can carry two.

"Some cars have three wheels, and so do some motorcycles, the ones with side cars.Those motorcycles can carry three people whereas some of your cars can only carry two."

These things are not exact!

“More exact than you think. Every person I know will know whether to call a motor vehicle a car or a motorcycle or a truck for that matter. But despite this you don’t have a definition. These are objects made by men and are used to move from place to place. They have different names which are loosely used to describe them but essentially are the same. They are more similar than different. I’m trying to point out that definitions are employed to make distinctions where distinctions are inherently difficult, not easy. I do not ask you what is the difference between a rainbow and a baseball, though I could easily. The definition comes into questions in cases where it can be challenged. Am I not right?”

All right I’ll accept that for now. Whatever I say you will think of an exception.

“So we admit that definitions are difficult do we not?”


“And that definitions usually fail at some point. Might we admit that? You’ve admitted that on simple matter definitions are easy. Correct?”

Yes I admit that. But give me an example of a very simple definition.

“1 + 1 =2.”

That’s not a definition. It’s simply true.

“Within the world of the language that you know and understand it’s true, but it’s still a definition. I could say # plus % equals * and say that on an planet I know that is as true as 1 + 1 = 2 is on earth. I could even say that has nothing to do with math but rather is a recipe for baking a cake!"

You could say anything is true somewhere else.

“Yes I could, though I might not be truthful in saying it. You admit the idea, that mathematics has definitions and those definitions are fairly simple logically. Yes?"


"There is a set of whole numbers and a set of integers and they are not the same set. Yes?”


“And the set of squirrels is not the same as the set of whales.”


“If I said that was not always possible to distinguish between squirrels and whales you’d dispute me wouldn’t you?”


“Even though the set of wolves overlaps with the set of dogs and the set of coyotes.”


Because some wolves have become like dogs and some dogs have become like wolves and even scientists cannot precisely say which of these are coyotes or wolves.

Ok . . yes.

“So we admit that as things get more complex coming up with definitions gets more difficult.”


“And pointless”

Yes. I see where you’re going with this now. Defining cars and motorcycles is a little easier than distinguishing poems from stories.”

“Good. You’ve got the idea now. So now I’d like you to try and define what poetry is . . . as an exercise.”

I’d rather not right now. Perhaps I can think of it if you ask me questions.

“Give it a shot. Try something that will stump me.”

But you cannot be stumped. You’re not from here. You have the advantage of living millions of time as long as I do and experiencing a million times as much. Your brain is the size of ten suns.

“Yes that is true. But we are talking like friends in a cafe are we not?”


“We are in a cafe are we not?”

Well I am but only some little morsel of you is. I don’t even know where the rest of you is. I can’t even see the rest of you!

“Trust me. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if I did not think I could get you to the point where I am already, on this topic of poetry.”

Well just so you know it’s getting exhausting. We’ve been at this for months. I haven’t made any progress at all. Everything I say you shoot down.

“But you admit that your logic is flawed. That is good. So now I ask you why do you cling to logic so? Couldn’t I just be trying to make you let go of logic. Of definitions?”

You could be doing anything. But you keep asking me at the end of every conversation ‘what is poetry’ and we’re going nowhere!

“All right I’ll make it easier. What do baseballs, cars, motorcycles, teapots, and radios have in common?”

These are all man made objects. All made by men.

“Good. Is poetry made by men too?”


“Well that is where you are wrong.”

You’re kidding.

“No I am not. But to prove it to you I we will have to sit together for many more sessions.”

You mean to say that although I write and use language to make arrangements of words that I call poems that I am not the author of them.

“Yes and no. You are the author of most of them but most of them are not poems. The ones that are poems, you are not the author of, though you did participate in the making.”

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