Re-Thinking Poetry

I miss the warmth of last week’s winter spell of sunshine, and of course the week before that I returned from two weeks of wintering in the Hawaiian Islands. There must be some winter, however. I sense that when we have it warm so much of the time here in California, we are anticipating future trouble. In this state of millions of people, about 39 million, more than the whole nation of Canada, we seem to continue this crazy dizzying life style of no concern when it comes to use of our water supply. We talk of drought and its devastating effects, but three or so years into it now and not much seems devastated. Well, maybe some of the hills are extra dry and bare, but for the most part the dry warm winters do not seem to halt our consumption of food nor curtail our lifestyles in any manner. Nothing changes our minds.

The past couple of days while staying on the beach in Cambria, near Hearst Castle, however, there is a noticeable community concern over the lack of water. Water is not served in restaurants unless asked for, and some only serve bottled water. Public rest rooms are closed and “greenie rooms” have been installed instead. Signs along the roadways urge passersby to conserve. And behind the state park campground I saw, for the first time, a desalinization plant at work. It seems that it sucks water out of the ocean and blows it through nozzles into a fine spray that then settles into a man-made pond or tiny lake. I didn’t know this was how desalinization works. I thought it was more about evaporating water.

Always seems a mystery to me to see so much salt water so close but so unusable, and expensive to transform it from salty to saltless, as if mother nature is teasing us. We stand on the edge of enormous potential, but are helpless to move forward. We continue to find our contentment with the meager when the immense is so close in view.

I have been reading more than writing lately, and know I should do some of both, but do not know what is the golden proportion between the two. Some days I feel like if I read just one more word my mind is going to snap and I will become completely brain dead, that I will no longer have a mind of my own, that I will drool and repeat passages from books that have no context with real life. The books I read tend to pull me away from the context of real, living life, but with good reason: because real life is always looking so mysterious and unexplainable to me. Everything I have learned seems subject to change, and since I have retired and no longer need to report hardly anything to anybody, I feel myself sliding deeper into a world of subjectivity, a world of my own thoughts and creation. The reading helps me keep engaged with the words and ideas of living people, rather than completely abandoning myself to the mental world of the zombies.

So I am on a poetry kick of late, having purchased several books of poetry for my Kindle ebook reader. Even though I loved poetry all my life and once wrote much of it, I slowly got away from reading it and seeing life under the poetic microscope. What I replaced it with is other types of literature more akin to philosophy, religion, and inspiration. Th effort to understand poetry had escaped me. The patience required to make sense of metaphor as well as the trippiness of obscure allusions in poems to people and places I know nothing about, caused me to walk away from poetry, to look elsewhere for that magical sense about reality. Part of the problem is that modern poets often do not understand poetry themselves, even well-known poets who are considered good at their craft. They seem to want to obscure rather than enlighten. Either that, or simplify to the point where the poem becomes insultingly dumb.

Ah well, I am now back to reading poetry and trying to write some. A few writing sessions while in Hawaii got me started on the idea. Haiku, the 5-7-5 syllable pattern of short verse, seemed like a good way for me to jump in and put on my poetry hat for a spell. I am still puzzling over the poets who speak to me the most and why it is that I hear some voices better than others. Much English poetry comes from older traditions, older language, with a hidden beauty that us moderns are unaccustomed to encountering in our daily lives. I enjoy reading poems of that, just for the challenge of trying to understand it, if for no other reason.

Then some modern poets such as Mary Oliver and David Whyte, with more up-to-date vernacular, can easily draw me into their interior views of life and self and nature, and stir me to want to drop their work and write my own. People who read poetry want to write it as well, or at least let their mind drift into a more poetic framework. That’s what poetry does, change our point of view, or fill us up inside with new thoughts and feelings that are not so common and banal as the message and the language of the press, of television and commerce and business. A quick detour into an interior world that is not based on power, money, greed, and self.

I see that prose and poetry often blur and some writers are masters at the process of making that blur happen. I often feel like what I am reading should be one or the other. If I see words spread out on a page and arranged in some non-prose manner, whether it be iambic pentameter or some other imagic arrangement, I will set myself up inside my mind to read with a different understanding about what I am reading, a different idea about what the reading will be doing for me. Prose asks for another frame of mind, but prose-poetry seems to be asking of me that I split my mind into two pieces–sort of right and left brain combined–and seek communication from both sides–both logical and intuitive; such an on-going battle for the spheres of my thinking slows me and often befuddles me, stops me from going very far without questioning why I am reading this at all.

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