the ages, contemplators of great poetic geniuses and their creations
have distinguished between craft and art, form and content.
is the skilled use of language devices that create form,
the completed poem, which articulates content. Art
is exquisite craft creating heightened form articulating content
of maximum depth and breadth.
art, the province of true poetic genius, imparts the presence
of transcendence. Transcendence is not something otherworldly; it
is the intense apprehension — via eloquent form and elegant content
— of an essential dimension of reality available to all humans but
rarely conceived, or at least rarely articulated, by more than a
few — a dimension that registers so persuasively within, it convinces
us it is essential to our ultimate survival — the very be-ing
of our deepest self, or soul. This persuasive register is the poem’s
feeling — emotional, intellectual, sensual, aesthetic, ethical,
and other subtle aspects we have not yet named.
entered the mystical realm of presence, one stands face-to-face
with meaning, which becomes one’s experience, and, if received
deeply enough, an aspect of one’s personal truth. Has anyone who
has encountered great poetry not felt the sweltering chill of that
presence? — and not lamented that paradise lost? (Remember those
exciting good old days as an undergrad when things were still “heavy”?)
is just that: being acutely present in this life in all its available
dimensions, including the dimension of metaphor embedded in the
poetry — Word, Logos — of existence. It is obeying the desire not
only to interpret, but to actively participate in the resonating
conceit with an act of meaningful creation. Pun intended: By conceit
I mean extended metaphor, and the perceived attitude of anyone presuming
great poetry starts here, with the cocky, yet humble, will to create
that perfects craft and art at the moment it transcends them. Great
poetry is self-transcending. But self-transcending within the context
of literature evolving within the context of a massive transcending
Creation awesome beyond comprehension. Created in the image of the
Creator by whatever name, the poet senses that he has not only the
ability, but the responsibility to create.
that responsibility is not a burden. On the contrary. The sensuous
pleasure of creation brings the joy of insight, the peace of self-awareness,
the excitement of having brought a work of art to life. What is
life-force but that edge where the not-yet-manifest comes into being?
Yet those uncomfortable with vulnerability shun that edge and squelch
their creativity; the culturally secular deny the sacredness of
the process of creation.
poetry pushes us beyond the status quo, making both past and future
present, while pre-sent-ing truth that never ceases being meaningful.
Being including having become and becoming, like the universe resonating
outward from its Big Bang.
we create with given materials, sometimes very given, as in the
case of, say, an Elizabethan sonnet. It could be argued that it
takes more creativity to make something unique out of tight form,
with so much already given, than to raise something up from the
blank page — not that any page is ever truly blank. Good formal
poetry could be viewed as the most rebellious type of poetry in
that it must assert the greatest will to create in spite of, or
even in resistance to, the greatest restrictions, and must then
seduce the will of the form to collude with the will of the poem.
of making anything new involves excavating what has been, whether
it is memories, meanings of words, unconscious observations, or
the history of literary craft and art programmed in our brain cells.
Meaning requires active interpretation — re-vision —, and self-transcendence
requires faith in transcendence; without this faith, no one can
be open to the experience of meaning in any work of art. Pushing
beyond is to some extent pushing back into, like a new image or
symbol refers to something we already know. Creation is never making
something from nothing. It is adding another line to life’s vast
network of connections.
transcendent dimension is dramatically embodied in Aristotle’s hero,
who, he asserts in his Poetics, is ourselves but greater
than ourselves; the hero is the particular example representing
the universal ideal, a human being of super-human power capable
of tremendous good and profound evil — at bottom, all great plots
(and even a short lyric has a mini-plot) concern the shadow’s struggle
toward or away from consciousness. We are each of us a latent hero
the way an acorn is not yet an oak.
his representations, the poetic genius inspires the hero, meaning
he awakens the feeling of that transcendent dimension embodied
within us; it is the “otherworldly” aspect very much of this world,
the awesome, terrifying spiritual presence that permeates what Longinus
called the “grand and harmonious structure” of the material universe,
including ourselves. It is the awareness of our discrete being among
other beings within the infinite, eternal realm of Being itself.
Even The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock or a play like Waiting
For Godot demonstrates presence ironically by making us feel
the anxiety and fear of its absence. No wonder poets are obsessed
with death, and with love, the perpetuation in every sense of life-force.
deep feeling tapped by the poetic genius is not the superficial,
sentimental tear-jerk of so much contemporary confessional poetry
(and by confessional, I do not mean autobiographical). Great poetry
reaches far beyond the “woe-is-me I had a bad childhood just ask
my therapist” gushing. Its concerns ripple out beyond the personal
soap opera, the political harangue, the nature poet’s backyard butterfly
tacked to a corkboard.