Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Universal, philosophical, and vague" . . . "poetry and life are not like that"

In a much earlier post, I wrote:
And so the Talmud is now for me the truly epic poem that is immensely alive and breathing and creating every day. It is studied, discussed and debated constantly by observant Jews, and so, why can I not walk through its pages discovering what I can find out about myself, God’s will and halakhic observance and in doing so begin or continue charting my own observance, which can only take place in the day-to-day world I live within.
And just the other day I decided to re-read a poem, entitled, "The Art of Poetry" by Kenneth Koch and wanted to share these lines that resonate with me and how my study of the Talmud when I am working at my best can truly be "one of the finest things in existence" and make me "curious to be alive," but is yet, not too "universal, philosophical, and vague," because as Kenneth Koch concludes, "poetry and life are not like that":

Total absorption in poetry is one of the finest things in existence—
It should not make you feel guilty. Everyone is absorbed in something.
The sailor is absorbed in the sea. Poetry is the mediation of life.
The epic is particularly appropriate to our contemporary world.
Because we are so uncertain of everything and also know too much,
A curious and seemingly contradictory condition, which the epic salves
By giving us our knowledge and our grasp, with all our lack of control as well.

* * *
. . . . . . . . . A reader should put your work down puzzled,
Distressed, and illuminated, ready to believe
It is curious to be alive.

* * *
It is true that good poetry is difficult to write.
Poetry is an escape from anxiety and a source of it as well.
On the whole, it seems to me worthwhile. At the end of a poem
One may be tempted to grow too universal, philosophical, and vague
Or to bring in History, or the Sea, but one should not do that
If one can possibly help it, since it makes
Each thing one writes sound like everybody else,
And poetry and life are not like that. Now I have said enough.


GSK+ said...

As ever & again, What a wonderful guy Koch was! And how wonderful of you to bring him before us again. A cobbler is a ("general") melange, but each blackberry has its own ("particular") texture & taste.....it is not cobblers or even blackberries one is eating, but this spoonful NOW approaching the mouth: many things lie behind it, it will prove cause of other sensations, all true, but -- for NOW...

Jeff Wild said...

Dear gsk+,

What a wonderful description of the NOW.

When I first saw your comment I was reading a short review that William Carlos Williams had written on Olson's Maximus Poems | 11-22, which was originally published by a small press called Jargon Books that was started by Jonathan Williams. Somehow your words seem right out of a WCW poem.

You can read the review here -- http://jargonbooks.com/wcw_maximus_rev.html