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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Metaphor for a Poet

Verse, free and rhyming is something I’ve struggled with for two decades . I’ve also realized that as soon as one switches mediums all kinds of difficult questions pop up.

If a woodworker builds a shelf, the purpose of his wood is the shelf to hold things.  It’s a purpose driven project. The words are result oriented. A lawyer works this way with words, so does an email.

A poetic woodworker might carelessly attempt to build a shelf out of jello in order to bring a change  in mind, a sartori for a young child for that is looking on.

This is exactly what Raymond Carver does in his stories. He makes one character the teacher, who does something that changes the mind of another. The teacher is the story, and the voice of the teacher the language.“The Cathedral” is one such story, and the model of the cathedral the image given to his metaphor.

If the thing we write has life, do we give it that life? Or are we simply processing something that was alive already and fulfilling it. . . bringing it into being?

Stories use words to bring out an inner life . . . a dialogue in the mind. "Winter Night", by Kay Boyle, even Hemingway’s early short stories. The authority of the sentence acts on behalf of a mind, human and flawed. We see through the obsessions of the writer’s voice. It proceeds from a constructed "I" or imagined authority. That is the metaphor in a story, it is behind the language which assumes it's position in the mind, in the teller of the tale.

The process in the reader’s mind becomes unstoppable. Words evolve the thing they’re making. But later the words are forgotten even though a good story is remembered. How is that possible. . . what creative process is continuing on? You bring these words out of the womb and then they get a life of their own. Who is to say if you will finish them or me or someone else?

I sometimes feel that all the struggle writers put into their work is just abuse meted out as parents to little aborted word creations. But there is a life, eventually and the thing that’s being created breaks free. The inner voice in a story, has life. I reflect on them, much as I’d reflect on someone new I’d just met.

Haiku are pithy, edgy, one can’t deny they pack a wallop. But haiku hasn’t time to dwell on a inner personal voice, or character development or any of that. It has to get right to the point. This you mastered. Haiku has metaphor only in the simple fact that the wallop of ‘plop’ is not an actual frog going in the water. It’s a word going into our brain

What pries meaning from words, and lets them fly free? The Greeks would have answered metaphor.

Metaphor is probably most misunderstood as a poetic 'device' when it reality metaphor is the stuff of poetry itself. What's not metaphoric, isn't poetry. By definition it's prosaic.

A  poem must be pulled away from stated subject. If anything the subject of a poem is the surface of a river. It is a fiction, yet it is all we see. It is not the water itself, but it's appearance and it's appearance only from one point of view. The river itself that is it's current, flowing eternal, vast deep is filled with fishes and plants and crustaceans and things you cannot see. Or is it the bedrock, the bed of the river that holds the flow, even if the river dries up in the summer before the rains.

A friend wants to write about divorce, and in her poem there is the word 'divorce'. And this part of the poem is like a legal brief. It is purpose driven. But hidden at the end there is this piece about dividing up common property in particular some sculptures, made of wood, one is of a loon, another of a bear.

Did the beautiful living branch want to be carved into a bear?

There’s the metaphor. The wood giving up wood-ness for loon-ness.

So crazy to take a branch and strip it
And make it agree to become a loon.

In almost every piece of writing there is the kernel of a metaphor that could fly to unforeseen heights. But in almost every instance that metaphor is buried, imprisoned, caged, a leopard pacing in a zoo.

A thousand Buddhists on a lake whisper in unison. Some grunt, some make clicking noises, others chant the letter 's' others short bits of 'a' or 'o' or 'p' or b. The sounds all fuse into the echo of a human voice speaking from the mountains.

That’s what a poem is. The Greeks defined this in their early theater experiments. They used voices speaking and singing behind masks to set up a reaction in the audience’s mind. It was more vivid than cinema. People had heart attacks, vomited, passed out and committed suicide the day after. It was scary stuff. Dionysus was there with all his terror. He could evoke war, battlefield hell, love, intimate love, ecstacy. . . . and did it all by not being specific, but instead setting up that echo. Behind masks!

Words take off their clothes and leave the imagination behind,  a desired effect once we’ve forgotten . . . 

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