Reading poetry can be a purely aesthetic experience — Ezra Pound’s exquisite images and cadence. Or it can be like locating our temporary seat on a figurative pew, where soft hosannas to the mutilated world drift through us. Then there are occasions when poetry becomes a source for personal appropriation, a something to concretely hallucinate oneself into. The reader seeks not exactly catharsis but a buoyant medium of complementarity in which to float numbly.
Pure aesthetics has taken on a decadent sheen. The world’s spirit has become tangled up in a distant vortex of history and trauma. Even emotion has become a too-weighty extravagance. So a semblance of thinking, in which void is fused with memory, emerges rather naturally. Comes a time then of tranquil dysposition, of ethereal purgatory. As if Nabokov himself was being netted by an ineffable dryad. Poems that know and show how that seems are morbidly edifying.
Most human spirits are like water escaping one’s grasp. They come and go, leaving a liquid scar on the surface of early affection. Human spirits dance into us, tire, then enigmatically excuse themselves. When they fade like legends on antique maps of mythic terrain, one begins to lose a sense of direction and measure. A something like sorrow happens, moving toward a dismal sublime.
Bizarre equanimity later comes calling, and one is ready for a complementary poem. Reading such a poem is to read an analog — a softening of remembrance into theatrical perplexity, then into a floating murmur.
Those kinds of poems are peculiar poems, coming to us from spectral hands: mystics, rustics, eccentrics. They’re too observant of dark hours and auras to be boring. They’re just what the doctor forgot to order. When we find ourselves stranded in a state of gnomic paralysis, we can turn to the enchanted austerity of a Keats ode. Imagination is the last refuge of the wounded.
Posted by Tim Buck