The Great Humbling S5E2 and John Berger's essay
Thank you for this. I've been rereading Berger recently; but also thinking a great deal myself about what it means to write poetry from a position of relative privilege and certainly relative democracy, tranquillity and safety, in a no-war zone.
I know that poetry can save your life – it has mine, in certain ways, a few times – and needs to be out there; but it still can feel like an indulgence as the writer.
I've also been thinking about Adorno's dictum 'no poetry after Auschwitz'.
This is not exactly what you address, but relevantly tangential, I suppose. Relevant to being a creative: what is one's responsibility; what is one's task/duty (difficult word to use) in the face of it all?
Once again your instincts lead you to the right place.
I recently spoke at a workshop exploring the role of poetry in the climate crisis. I was conflicted, because I find when poetry is used to help a political project, it will in ways refuse and get lost. What I found myself saying is that the prose explanations are crumbling around us, while the poem remains, and poets will need to step into that new reality. Reading Berger's descripting of early protests being "written in prose" rang a giant gong for me. Poetry is often brought in to serve these prose-written movements, but that's actually kind of backwards.
Rumi has a tale describing a limping goat lagging behind the herd, which comes to a cliff and must turn around, and suddenly the goat in the back is in the front. I think there's something of that going on today.
If I were to explore Berger, what book would you recommend I begin with?
Grateful to have read Berger's words through yours today. I doubt I can ever not think of poetry as speaking to the immediate wound--what a gorgeous, brutally truthful way to talk about the power poetry has to speak honestly, and the labour of poetry.
"All other human pain, however, is caused by one form or another of separation" (Berger).
Poetry re-connects us despite a rather crude cultural artifact that imitates and displaces relationship, to our great detriment. I'm reminded of something I wrote recently (could this be related to your point?):
The prevailing consensus-reality is not a network of authentic human relationships, but of financial connections separating people that, as French economist André Orléan points out, "...reunites separated individuals by building for them a common horizon, the desire for money, and a common language, that of accounts." Thus there are two unbreakable constraints on the possible emergence of the worldwide human community of peace and restorative stewardship that could sustain our species and our Biosphere: the impassable barrier between us, and the colossal infrastructure of scarcity-accounting that is its substance.
The language of poetry, some languages that are essentially poetic, and the still-intact cultural heritage of indigenous peoples, seem to work in a realm prior to or outside of this cultural structure.
To your point, perhaps prose does not: because it is the very language in which modernity is constructed in our minds (and replicated externally). Of course my poor attempt to conceptualize this is likewise constrained, leaving it to the reader to apply a poetic eye, meaning being endogenous to the brain (and thank you all, for bringing this mysterious faculty to the party).
And there is literature that transcends this structural limitation. Occasionally I find (to my delight) your own writings enter that magical realm.
Yes to Poetry! It allows space for something to grow, its roots hidden not exposed to the merciless Stare.
As to torture I cant help but sense that deep down The Modern World is so torturous that we have closed our eyes lest we see the continuum that we are in some sense caught up in the all. Or something like that . . .
Holy moly, I haven’t come across any Berger poems before. Where would you direct me for more..?
On the poem as remainder —
"Spring Drawing 2" by Robert Hass
A man says lilacs against white houses, two sparrows, one streaked, in a thinning birch, and can't find his way to a sentence.
In order to be respectable, Thorstein Veblen said, desperate in Palo Alto, a thing must be wasteful, i.e., "a selective adaptation of forms to the end of conspicuous waste."
So we try to throw nothing away, as Keith, making dinner for us as his grandmother had done in Jamaica, left nothing; the kitchen was as clean at the end as when he started; even the shrimp shells and carrot fronds were part of the process,
and he said, when we tried to admire him, "Listen, I should send you into the chickenyard to look for a rusty nail to add to the soup for iron."
The first temptation of Sakyamuni was desire, but he saw that it led to fulfillment and then to desire, so that one was easy.
Because I have pruned it badly in successive years, the climbing rose has sent out, among the pale pink floribunda, a few wild white roses from the rootstalk.
Suppose, before they said silver or moonlight or wet grass, each poet had to agree to be responsible for the innocence of all the suffering on earth,
because they learned in arithmetic, during the long school days, that if there was anything left over,
you had to carry it. The wild rose looks weightless, the floribunda are heavy with the richness and sadness of Europe
as they imitate the dying, petal by petal, of the people who bred them.
You hear pain singing in the nerves of things; it is not a song.
The gazelle's head turned; three jackals are eating his entrails and he is watching.
New to Berger but I like what is being tied to into that Campanga business here. The phrase "making sense" has an air to it of fabrication. It is an instrumetal approach to apprehension that, rather than a sensual entrance into relation, is a working of what the senses brush up against as if all is mere material. I imagine poetry is a tzimtzum of language where the litero-certain and the unambiguous are withdrawn in order to make room for the ambidextrous and multi-valent. There is a certain kind of silence about it that, with that drawing back from certainty, changes the species of revelation mustered into being. The endgame of fabrication is an intimacy that culminates in a complete distance (person to thing) while poetry's endgame is a distance (the metaphorical) whose endgame is to make strangers into companions.
That is what kicked up reading this post. Don't blame me.
Thanks for these further elaborations on the episode.
My mother writes poems, but I havent inherited much of her gift. This might be a skill that needs developing.
You expressed in the episode your gratitude for the 'weave' of authors and thinkers that you're part of. We are still digesting the outcomes of the elections here in NL and with everyone talking about how the outcome shocked them, showing them how much they are living within a 'bubble'. I really like your idea of being part of a weave, as all that bubbles do is burst or harden and exclude the ins and outs, while weaves have a sense of cocreation, of possibilities to join in, being stronger in a fabric then as a single strand. (And also in the fantasy stories that shaped my youth like DnD the weave is the source of all magic, so that might help in associating with the word).
Anyway, thanks for introducing me to your weave and the inspiration it provides.