Sometimes, I come across poets who write stuff I can read and enjoy. Experiencing their poems is like that peculiar and pleasant sensation I get when tracer dye is injected during an MRI – a flush of holistic warmth courses through me. I can even imagine, since I’m connecting with their work, that a few of these poets would connect with other stuff I like: Thomas De Quincey, say, and Bruno Schulz and Georg Trakl and W.G. Sebald, and maybe even the music of Beethoven. There’s certainly no guarantee of that, but it’s nice for a passing reverie. One prefers to imagine, perhaps, an implicit web of sensibility rather than an airless tomb of idiosyncrasy.
And sometimes, I come across poets who write institutional stuff that is preening yet drab, suave yet uninteresting. I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately trying to understand and possibly appreciate poetry coming out of American universities over the decades, out of creative writing programs. I’ve tired to understand and appreciate poems related to those avant-garde trends of academe: identity poetry, language poetry, conceptual poetry. My attempt failed. Whatever it is driving the synapses of professional poets and the gears of their networked world is something alien to me. Conferences about theory instead of about wonder must be drearily indulgent occasions. If a poem has an ulterior motive, eschews authorial meaning, or is disdainful of mood and Orphic echo, then leave me out.
There’s another kind of poem I find in important journals that makes me nervous. It’s less doctrinaire than the above types, but it still seems to have that certain MFA voice causing me trepidation then panic: a general kind of voice drained of lyrical instinct and rhythmic inflection. Oftener than not, it’s a voice droning about depressive or oddly neutral thoughts gathered in New England or on a windy beach in Maine after a pretentious dinner. It’s also a voice trying to persuade me that its dimensions of saying are larger and profounder than they actually are.
Reading poems that have no aesthetic trace of melancholy, motion, or metaphysics is like being peppered in the face by handfuls of written gravel while being simultaneously bored to the edge of a yawning abyss. It’s quite the dissonant and unpleasant experience.
Reading poems by London-based poet Clarissa Aykroyd is not an unpleasant experience. I recently stumbled across her fine blog The Stone and the Star, then catapulted myself into some of her fine poems. Regarding her blog, she is doing an important thing: a poet writing about poetry, and with a spirit of awed enthusiasm. Aykroyd seems to have an admirable appreciation for poets of depth like Rilke and Celan.
I’m providing links to four of Aykroyd’s poems:
This poem is alive with scene, sound, and suggestion. The lines are perfectly judged and darkly evocative, as if Pound had smashed into Lorca. Writing with images and with supple melancholy is the hallmark of an actual poet – an artistic poet.
Trailing notes like flight,
guitars sing the sky.
The voice in this poem is not indulgently droning nor is it concerned with pipsqueak dimensions. Discrete observations have farther-flung resonances (an almost Sebaldean mist and restlessness pervade). The radical quiddity and plurality of phenomena stress the mind toward a metaphysics of desired wholeness – an exotic deliverance into a region of deathless poetics.
But if only I could name this the world,
then I could squeeze the Atlantic and step
over sea and land to Pacific light,
Isn’t it fascinating how a new place, a new situation enhances sight and sound? Textures, colors, and inflections deepen in complementarity to the marvelous lostness of ourselves in an actual or possible Poland. It’s almost hallucinatory. That’s a fitting pretext for a poem to be written, and that’s a fitting context for a poem to not be boring. Speaking of hallucinatory, I seem to detect an undercurrent of music bringing this poem. Consider the rhythmic quality of the first four lines – it moves as if a Chopin impromptu, nocturne, or polonaise.
In this country
where I’m a stranger to speech,
I am privy only to pure tone,
no traps or false steps of my own beloved tongue.
Although I don’t go all the language way with Mallarmé and Blanchot, I do embrace the idea that a poem abides in a space or volume of being somewhat distinct from our regular space or volume of being. A poem has its foundation in lived experience, but once written, it floats over into tangent space, aesthetic space, spirit space, poetic space. There, its actual correlatives begin to vibrate with virtual correlatives. So a poem about a real doomed flight can become entangled with a book about a fictional doomed flight (and then, further entangled with a music score written about that book).
When I read Aykroyd’s poem, I easily slid off into tangent space. This work about an air traffic controller (also a poet) who consoled a doomed pilot by reciting poems reminded me of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel Night Flight, which is about a doomed mail pilot in Argentina. Even though that pilot had no one to console him with poems, he was lulled into a kind of existential trance owing to a peculiar vibration of the plane’s engine:
The only link between him and the world was a wave of music, a minor modulation. Not a lament, no cry, yet purest of sounds that ever spoke despair.
Okay. Back to Aykroyd’s poem. The hypnotic cadence and the dark lyricism of this poem impressed me, allowed me to read the whole thing without wavering, without getting fidgety. Imagine if a poet who gets published in university presses and in the major literary journals decided to write a poem on this theme. Well…they wouldn’t know how to get the thing off the ground, so to speak. How in the world would an ensconced professional lift off into such dangerous and imaginative written flight? The danger of actual human sentiment and the drama of transposing predicament into actual art of tangent space.
It was a small hope, for him: small hopes, each a distant light.
The great seas, the great sky, the tiny life between.
We spoke poems in a time out of time, on a breaking bridge of sound.
Clarissa Aykroyd’s blog has a Facebook page.
Posted by Tim Buck