Below, we have a new essay by Robert Mueller. He deals with two fine poets, Barbara Guest and Jill Magi, with imagination and verve.
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The topic of poetic space on the page is an interesting one. How it looks alters our reception and perception. We read it differently to ourselves depending upon topography.
Poetry is both spatial and aural. Traditionally, poetry was heard, not seen, passed down to us from bard to bard, from shaman to shaman, registering across the centuries in the ear, as we imagined the words and their referents with our inner eye. With the advent books, of the printing press, and much later, the multimedia revolution, things changed radically. Kept changing. Back and forth we go now, different schools of thought tout different authenticities and purities, and we choose.
Is the best poetry that which reads well and sounds glorious in the internal ear? Or is it solely a matter of externalities? What we hear, not what we see? For me the answer is obvious, mostly. It’s both. And the most successful poems lead us off the page and far away from our own space and time, so we can return to ourselves recreated in some small way. Or more than that, if we’re lucky. A merger of art, linguistics, music, science, collective, mysterious memories. Haunting us. The architecture of the poem on the page reminding us of the architecture already there in our mind. Consciously or subconsciously.
I have just started rereading one of my favorite novels, Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. This time, however, I’m relying on a different, brand new translation by Burton Pike. Here is one of Rilke’s best expressions (through the voice of Malte) of what it takes to make poetry happen.
(Slightly abridged with ellipses. Worth reading in full):
But alas, with poems one accomplishes so little when one writes them early. One should hold off and gather sense and sweetness a whole life long, a long life if possible, and then, right at the end, one could write perhaps ten lines that are good. For poems are not, as people think, feelings (those one has early enough) — they are experiences. For the sake of a line of poetry one must see many cities, people, and things, one must know animals, must feel how the birds fly, and know the gestures with which small flowers open in the morning . . . But it is still not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them, if they are many, and have the great patience to wait for them to come again. For it is not the memories themselves. Only when they become blood in us, glance and gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves, only then can it happen that in a very rare hour the first word of a line arises in their midst and strides out of them.
–Rainer Maria Rilke