Curious Perception: Poetry Inspired by Life Experiences, Emotions & Thoughts

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My desire has been to learn from others but, when I write, to make something simply my own. There are ways to allude and include. Early Sanskrit erotic poetry, for instance, is an extraordinary body of work, in many ways reminiscent of the poems of the Japanese court women. There are problems inherent in such a conservative aesthetic—problems of staleness and repetitive feeling, of an almost mechanical juggling of familiar imagery—though any set of artistic values can produce bad writing.

JH: And all that reification just falls apart, without abandoning the form. And then Marilyn Hacker comes and does it again.

So yes, of course it can be done. JH: I can understand that.

I, though, take the opposite strategy, in reading. I read as many other poets as I can, current and past, in English, in translation. CdN: Opening broadly is clearly important to you. Could you talk about it a little? One day in that room, a small rat. Two days later, a snake. Later, the flashlight found nothing. For a year I watched as something—terror? It hung where words could not reach it. It slept where light could not go. Through them the belled herds travel at will, long-legged and thirsty, covered with foreign dust.

Who, seeing me enter, whipped the long stripe of his body under the bed, then curled like a docile house-pet.


Why Is Poetry Important to Our World Today? - Alice Osborn

Not knowing how it came in, Not knowing how it went out. Its scent was neither snake nor rat, neither sensualist nor ascetic. There are openings in our lives of which we know nothing. JH: One task life demands of each of us is to come to some relationship with not-knowing.

At the center of this particular poem lies the inscrutability of the emotional life, of how it lives in us and we in and with it. It arrives.

It stays. It vanishes. We might construct some story, but we can never understand fully what has happened to us in our lives. The most powerful shakings of the psyche, joyous or ruinous, are felt as a matter for awe, in the old sense of that word. My poems often begin with the factual—the seen, the heard, the tasted. The psyche chooses, from the stream of any day, what might magnetize some deeper understanding.

This poem, then, started with a concrete, literal experience but then moved into the inner experience the outer one summoned. Something difficult was going on in my life, and the poem was written amidst that, but it also looks at what for me is a continuous puzzle: why does it feel so essentially necessary and yet so ambivalently wanted, to have the fixed shapes of my life unfixed?

JH: Well, snakes and rats, even actual ones, have their train of what a Jungian might call royal meanings. In the West, a snake is a revelation of the ungloved and unhidden phallic; it is dangerous, poisonous in both the actual and biblical garden, and frightening. Rats are everywhere resourceful and tricksterish and also pariah-survivors we pull back from. Just yesterday, someone brought me a copy of Given Sugar, Given Salt to sign.

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In the German still-life on the cover, there are many edible things, a beautiful small parrot, an insect. The terrors woven into the fabric of our lives require poems—not to answer them, but to meet them. But an image lets you begin to take something in, to absorb it without either dissection or encysting. CdN: Your poems not infrequently use animals—animals presumably real, and seen in the world—to explore both the animals themselves and other subjects.

A black-faced sheep looks back at you as you pass and your heart is startled as if by the shadow of someone once loved. Neither comforted by this nor made lonely. Only remembering that a self in exile is still a self, as a bell unstruck for years is still a bell. JH: Yes, of course.

The sheep is nervous, wondering what are you going to do—walk by, feed it, eat it? For the sheep that gaze is a matter of life and death. Sheep are prey. A new emotion always signals some change in the status quo. To be shaken, undone, disrupted. Or some part of me, the braver part, wants that. We are most alive in the moment the ladder is tipping.

And so, the looking of those black-faced sheep—I saw them while crossing northern Scotland, on the way to read on the Isle of Skye—felt significant, something more than itself. Later, writing the poem, I began also to think about feeling itself.

Curious Perception: Poetry Inspired by Life Experiences, Emotions & Thoughts

Sheep are quite brilliant at being sheep, but what they know, they know by desire, fear, curiosity, hunger, courtship. JH: Thank you. Mystery is what you are trying to let in, if you enter the realm of poems at all. A fate is sometimes lived out fully, sometimes not. Untaken choices, I think, remain part of your life, just as a bell is a bell whether or not it is ringing.

Your life is your longings as much as any set of its events. There are quandaries that come up for a person, things you continue wrestling with for years. Fate and its accidents is one such quandary, for me. Let me add, mostly I try to forget whatever I may know about my own obsessions, about my poems. I suspect it unhealthy for a poet to know very much about what or why he or she writes—you might then stay in only that one small paddock.

An interviewer asking questions is one way that happens. Wakeful, sleepy, hungry, anxious, restless, stunned, relieved. Does a tree also feel them? A mountain? A cup holds sugar, flour, three large rabbit-breaths of air. Seeing the air in a measuring cup as a volume of rabbit-breaths; anxiety equated with sugar, relief with flour; wondering what the inner life is of trees and mountains.

Whatever it is, you have to let it in.

Original Research ARTICLE

The top of the measuring cup is lidless. Take anxiety. For me, anxiety is almost intolerable. Yet it is also information. What then?