What is Poetry?
POEM and POET, from Gk poiema and poietis; from poiein, to make, to create. Akin to Skt cinoti, he heaps up.
Poetry is language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. - Ezra Pound
Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It's that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public; that's what the poet does.- Allen Ginsberg
Now, what is poetry?
If you say it is simply a matter of words,
I will say a good poet gets rid of words.
If you say it is simply a matter of meaning,
I will say a good poet gets rid of meaning.
"But," you ask, "without words and without meaning,
where is the poetry?
To this I reply: "get rid of words and get rid of meaning, and there is still poetry."
- Yang Wan-li (trans. by Jonathan Chaves)
My life is a poem. I love my little poems, tiny words shattered in a sort of system in my heart, in a sort of little voice, could be to me. A poem is like little suns in my face when I shatter the words that appear in mind that I put in a sort of dangerous associated system I love. Poems should be positive and strong, raising and raising. When words ap-pear in a system it could be positive or an accident or nature sorting into life, if you put it that way.
—Melissa Kawecky, 3rd Grade
A poet is a bard, scop, minnesinger, trobaritz who is driven by sound and the possibilities for vocal expression, the mouthing of text as well as intentionality or dance on the page. - Anne Waldman, Vow to Poetry
Poetry proper is never merely a higher mode (melos) of every-day language. It is rather the reverse: everyday language is a forgotten and therefore used-up poem, from which there hardly resounds a call any longer. - Martin Heidegger, Language
out of indigo
is bluer than indigo
colder than water.
Zenrin Kushu, trans. by Soiku Shingematsu
A single stroke of the early prayer-bell wakes me. Does it also waken my soul?
- Tu Fu
Language is not something you learn in school, it is a world you're born into. It is part of the wildness of mind. You master your home tongue without conscious effort by age five. Language with its sinuous syntax is not unlike the thermal dynamics of weather systems, or energy exchanges in the food chain - completely natural and vital, part of what and who we are. Poetry is the leap off of - or into that. - Gary Snyder
To be a child is not an affair of how old one is. "Child" like "angel" is a concept, a realm of possible being. Many children have never been allowed to stray into childhood. Sometimes I dream of at last becoming a child.
A child can be an artist, he can be a poet. But can a child be a banker? It is in an affair as running a bank or managing a store or directing a war that adulthood counts, an experienced mind. It is in the world of these pursuits that "experience" counts... The secret of genius lies in this: that here experience is not made to count. - Robert Duncan, Statements on Poetics.
We turn and turn in the animal belly, in the mineral belly, in the belly of time. To find the way out: the poem. - Octavio Paz
Poems and prose-poems by Bill Scheffel
A paragraph is an entire body.
Sometimes made of alloys,
sometimes of tissue.
Our paragraphs circle the planet -
real albatross, real hummingbird.
In migration they are known by
the trees or watersheds they return to.
Sentences are the limbs and organs of this body
that does not belong entirely to you,
or to me.
Unconditional faith is not something to believe in but something to know. It is not forcing myself to believe but encountering something believable, something undeniable, something innate. The encounter itself is intangible, a substance I cannot collect, bring home, or experiment on. I cannot prove its existence or even that it happened. Faith is packaged intangibility as terrain, an invisible homeland we emerged from, or once crossed over, or slept on for a night - that continues to exist as a spiritual echo or postcard.
The text says, “That mind of sadness, possessing faith, free from thought is the profound tradition of the genuine great warriors.” Faith is an innate aspect of the mind of sadness - which is unconditional sadness: the all-embracing mercy, love and compassion that is an ocean without shore, distributed evenly and without beginning or end throughout the timeless and unbounded cosmos. It discovers us as gravity, intangible attraction. The mind of sadness possesses faith as the universe is possessed by gravity.
The mind free from thought is like the moon without space probes or discarded fuel tanks. A perfect sphere of non-interference that has no diameter. The thought that goes looking for something it can never find is freed by outer space and faith flares in countless unique constellations. The profound tradition of genuine great warriors are those who open to witness this immensity without location.
These warriors have journeyed though countless light years of aloneness. Since awake travels at the speed of light they became ever closer to themselves. On an endless journey, they have nothing to dispense but gravity itself; compassion or mercy in all its faces - terrible fires or the miracle of water. The most perfect geniuses of awakened warriorship travel faster than the speed of light, which explains how they might arise between the thought we just had and the one we haven’t had yet. The gap in thought is our invisible homeland and our faith the felt evidence of each of their visits.
To love is to confess we are loved
Our life is a catastrophic encounter between two types of time in which only one can survive. The inducement of love as a dark storm collapses hope and fear and leaves us islanded without the objects we once stared into imagining permanence. The evolution of each single life has no agreed upon beginning. We journey through understanding: first words, their meaning, rules, lessons, responsibilities, everyone’s opinion of us internalized mirror becoming finally transparent with our last breath. Time is a fire so bright it leaves no shadow. We cannot accept that we don’t know what will happen. We scratch at it. We measure it, or curse. Time does not understand words. Under its spotlight we are refused our own meaning. When we confess we are loved.
Turkish Airlines flight number 1508 flew above clouds, above the intersection of clouds and sky: pure white, pure blue. The long evolution of cells eventually produced a window seat and the imagined viewer somewhere above the Mediterranean Sea. The round window and the eye’s cornea, the optic nerve and the astronomer’s nebula: infinite distance in perception’s immediate-platonic realization godhead animal. The wing of the Airbus A320 is still a wing and its flight glide from Paris to Istanbul burns the costly fuel of time as evolution evaporates backwards into its original big dot or bang. Incessant non-existence crafted without prime-mover eventually inhaled into the magpie’s caw. Grammar, syntax and diction are the expression of evolution’s ultimate compassion-hipster because it was just after writing the word “magpie” that one outside this imagined window really did caw.
Seagulls flock in all directions
while jetliners from Sabiha Gökçen Airport
ascend at regular intervals above endless Istanbul.
Each of us in this city has a web of friends,
family, children, someone.
A sonar is sounding.
Could it be a pigeon’s heart?
Or perhaps a Magpie?
Any heart on wings will do.
Cruising altitude Denver to La Guardia corridor: I meet distant relatives of previous flights above clouds that thicken and thin with moments of Kansas or Missouri covered in slight membrane of snow before the portal whitens again into obliqueness. White page of the book, and how she holds its Chapter Two open with one hand or sometimes a single finger; the way a “V” forms when she spreads her fingers apart to clamp down more of the page, and how reading is mileage crossed as sentences are covered in the white snow of fading memory. The confinement of seats twenty-five A and B composes a short story in this fuselage section and its artifacts: the pre-flight instructions; the beverage cart; passengers slipping between sleep and Fox News on the seat embedded flat-screen TVs. From the far end of the cabin to this one the light is still an impressionist 8:00 AM - though it is now almost 2:00. The cloud cover is vaguely, subliminally monotonous until I tip my head and glance out the window. The blue horizon is like an inverted sea, out there beyond the tip of the wing.
Frontier Flight #212
The Ants in Our Yard
The ants in our yard did not declare war or go insane.
No anthill became a slum or garbage dump.
No ant was executed,
none were murdered,
The ants could not call star-light inexorable
or attach metaphors to the constellations.
That they could not become bees, swim or fly
was never discussed.
There was no apparent strategy for digging,
In blackness they engineered spotless tunnels.
Without mortar or screws they mastered the gravel
removed only the right tiny stone and
guarded a queen who lay transparent eggs.
It was said she had wings.
The deadly human footstep
was not considered an act of god or a tragedy.
In our yard alone there were hundreds of anthills,
hundreds of them.
During meditation practice suchness returns, sometimes gradually, sometimes like a pan dropped to the floor. Someone leaves the room and I discover the one of me who remains is a more intimate friend, without critique, a far better person, transparent. Sometimes there is not even that one and the mind of the Imperial Drala is present and available to dissolve into. I read the text and if I inhabit the words each one is its own suchness - with new rooms, new paint, exotic plants - announcing something important if my voice will be its tongue. All the effort is to make myself the merest, barest, least noisy receptacle - a landing-platform, host, practitioner, human being. At least it becomes clear – every time – that my life and the curiosities and pleasures of it, its challenges, dramas and opportunities, everything that is worthwhile has come from Him, born when I first saw Him, first read His words, arriving anew whenever I think of Him… and my greatest day-to-day anxiety is that I will forget to think about Him as intensely and intimately as I sometimes have. I fear that dullness a great deal, even as I have found myself swayed by it.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
I must carry
a smile close
to the surface.
I must be alert,
ready to use it -
almost like a gun
with its chamber
Skids, Echoes, Levers
Finely etched skyline with sparrow
walking tin roof. Difficult to spot a tree.
Crazed or incoherent architectural assortments under
ink-swollen sky forming rain-clouds and to the right
an eye-glass clinic.
Large section of paint peeled off that
building, forming white underside in shape
of winged elephant. Clouds darken
and sunlight diagonals intensify.
Motorcycle horns, transmissions, engine revvings,
a pipe dragging, skids, echoes, levered bus doors,
tires bouncing stones or crushing glass, angry exhaust pipes,
compressors, hair-driers, the snap of a clothespin –
what kind of gap if it was suddenly silenced?
Could the earth be heard, or the whirl of planet
Chiron from immense solar-system outskirt?
The snapback of mind glimpsing itself?
My shirt is slung over back of the chair,
bodiless. Feet shoeless.
Sky darker, but for now,
One Hour Later
Today, when I first began to sit, I saw an image of a single soup can inside a yellow cupboard and felt a palpitation in my heart like the left-behind wing flaps of passing Canadian geese. It was the familiar clamor of simulacrum identities since beginningless time and the particular conflations of this life woven together as amusements, grasping and freight. So you just keep sitting, dawn’s everlasting agreement with the guru, the reliable cheer of beginning each day as the day itself begins, Easterly. Later on strength from solitude and aloneness arises among half-decisions and other un-moored greetings that could become commands. Integrity begets integrity, the way forward is without question one of kindness and service. This life has offered me a precious and strange poetry where each lesson defies a price tag or income stream but has meaning in the obscurity or half-reflections that I long to share with others.
The Period Key
The period key on my typewriter hammers through the paper and when I look at the page backside in sunlight I see an array of dots like landing lights on a snowfield or stars in fog, each one measuring the length of my sentence. Sometimes a comma also penetrates, its hook reversed, its existence now runic or hieroglyph, mapping the dreamtime of my fingers and thumb. I imagined writing about the man I spoke to in my garden today, Shane who lives in Jamestown, unincorporated, just east of the Continental Divide, a town hit by torrential rain and three mudslides that tore out the culvert, upended a dozen pickups and spilled into the general store. It was last year’s forest fire that set conditions for this year’s Jamestown disaster, but by the time I started writing I needed something more tactile and the periods, when touched by a fingertip, suggest whiskers or nearly microscopic volcano craters on a landscape of paper; like the killing-field silver mines of Potosi, the kind of place Che Guevara went to liberate, though in the end he too was shot full of holes.