I will assume that a 19th-century New England mesmerist reserved his hypnotic inducement for special occasions. Surely, when in the company of other mingling guests at an evening soirée, he would use his regular, everyday voice. Otherwise, imagine the scene — a blithe, conversational gathering turned on its head. Ladies and gentlemen, transfixed by unusual intonations and cadences from the esoteric tuxedoed “Doctor,” would soon begin swaying into one another, while the string quartet spontaneously erupted with an otherworldly waltz.
Those with the power to suggest and to bewitch hold that aptitude in quiet reserve. Like our circulating mesmerist, masters of the poem are also judicious, not graphomaniacal. When a poem does rarely appear, it’s something to read.
I stubbornly adhere to the opinion that a poem should be an extraordinary occasion and experience. I’m talking about something different than “This poem made me feel such and such a thing” or “This poem made me think something in a new manner.” Writing and reading a real poem is an aesthetic experience of the first order, which means it’s a mode of being that has to do with the marvelous. And like mesmerism, such a poem creates an altered dimension of consciousness, one of staggered time and stunned space.
Reading a good poem is being worked upon by subtle powers of symbolic suggestion and of rhythmic persuasion. The reader of the extraordinary — one who has entered that altered dimension of the good poem — will not be able to say a whole lot about the experience. Art, in its deepest register, transcends the explainable, the definable. Regions of the auditor’s unconscious are affected during a quality poem or other work of art, and the unconscious is a region of equivocal significance, of ambivalent conviction, of tongue-tied naivete. As with Proust’s olfactory hallucinations, certain poets’ voices evoke such ephemeral-yet-crucial atmospheres.
Although aesthetic experience eludes a precise, rational accounting, an exemplary poem, I think, has the characteristic of folding us into a duration as oddly familiar as an old dream. This folding – this transposition of consciousness – is best achieved by a voice acculturated to introversion, silence, exile, ballet, seascape, old books. What is a more efficacious mode for the possibility of poetic marveling than when in the presence of a perfect voice, a voice of astute tempo and hypnotic rhythm? Certain poetic voices are allergic to the wrong note. They are a supple sonics of constraint, precluding garrulity and extraneity (even too much concision). Certain voices conjure language into a new substance – the aural surreal.
In the poem below by Yael Tomashov, voice manifests as a distinctive quality of art, as one of the most important aspects of a poem. This is not a regular, everyday voice. When you read a poem written with a regular, everyday voice, it’s axiomatic that the poem will shudder, gasp, and fall over comatose on the page after the first few lines. Poems that are extraordinary involve a leaving behind of the everyday voice and a conjuring forth of the hypnotic voice. And just as axiomatically, the heightened, hypnotic voice will trace contours of thematic eccentricity, of austere beauty, of readable depth.
Voice, in a certain register, opens the possibility of wonder that waits patiently beneath textures of the everyday. Voice, in a certain register, allows old echoes of half-forgotten poets to vibrate a ghostly harmonics. I suppose what I’m talking about is a distinguished manner of phrasing, a certain high style of utterance.
“Only, I don’t believe in Apocalypses. I believe in Apocatastases. Apo-cata-stasis.
What it means:
1) Restoration, re-establishment, renovation. 2) Return to a previous condition.
3) (Astronomy) Return to the same apparent position, completion of a period of revolution”
Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean / Signal To Noise
I am remembering a record of a children’s story. The swan freezes or is forgotten
or dies of loneliness. I am seven and the pain wounds me
each time it’s played.
Summer is ending right now. A fan turns slowly,
propelling the air that’s cooling outside the window.
The sound of a deep, distant thunder gargles above the city that darkened early,
I live one hour backward.
My rain forests are piling up on the table.
As long as I shall read them
I will not die.
The swan freezes or dies of loneliness
and I breathe shallow breaths, growing to a medium size
and kick the transparent door of actuality. Behind it is the blooming garden of emotions;
my little hell.
Maybe there was no swan. But something in that story got left behind
and Death sat with Autumn on the spinning vinyl disc
like two mice, silently.
Right now, summer is reaching its end. The fan keeps stubbornly
turning back the pages.
There, in the white condensed space before the first word,
Copyright © Yael Tomashov
Translated from Hebrew by Shir Freibach
Yael Tomashov lives in Tel Aviv. She is a poet, translator, editor, journalist, and educator.
Posted by Tim Buck