If you want to communicate … write a poem

I like John Tranter’s poetry. Sheesh, he’s twice won my Warrick Poetry Book of the Year Award! But, in the discussion between him and Dennis Haskell reported in Australian Poetry (AP) recently, I guess I’d fall in line with Haskell’s belief. Not that I’m against modernism, but Haskell’s definition of what poetry is, sits more closely to what I understand poetry to be, and trying to be. AP reported:

At the Perth Writers Festival this year John Tranter repeated the idea about poetry he has consistently adhered to, “If you want to communicate, use the telephone”. While John has taken it from modern American poets, it’s an idea that dates from the period of Modernism, one hundred years ago. I want to argue that it’s a form of giving up, and that poetry’s most important role is still the traditional one of communicating a combination of deep emotion, complex thought and a spirituality that often seems to lie just outside the reach of language which constitutes the deepest expression of meaning available to humans. Since Modernism people have run away from poetry to the telephone, and the most urgent need of contemporary poetry is to get them running back.

It’s lofty, recklessly ambitious, even old fashioned but those words, ring true with me a bit:

Poetry is about “communicating a combination of deep emotion, complex thought and a spirituality that often seems to lie just outside the reach of language which constitutes the deepest expression of meaning available to humans” Haskell.

You can read more on the AP site, but you’ve got to be a member and I recommend anyone with a strong interest in poetry to join up. I wonder, what’s the best definition of poetry you’ve heard?

The Poetics of Space

Just finished reading Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, a book that was on my wishlist for a long time, and really enjoyed it. It’s subtitled, ‘the classic look at how we experience intimate places’ and it’s that exploration of space and place, aligned with the prominence of the poetic voice throughout, that really appealed to me.

It’s no walk in the park; it’s classified ‘architecture, philosophy, literature’, but some of the insights are beautiful and profound. I found myself assiduously underlining and circling and annoating, especially in the first half of the book. Some of the things I took down are below:

‘…the joy of reading appears to be the reflection of the ghost of writing, as though the writer were the reader’s ghost’ (xxvi)

‘First of all, as is proper in a study of images of intimacy, we shall pose the  problem of the poetics of the house. The questions abound: how can secret rooms, rooms that have disappeared, become abodes for an unforgettable past?’ (xxxvi)

‘Transcending our memories of all the houses in which we have found shelter, above and beyond all the house we have dreamed we lived in, can we isolate an intimate, concrete essence that would be a justification of the uncommon value of all our images of protected intimacy?’ (3)

‘I should like to give the name of topoanalysis to this auxiliary of psycoanalysis. Topoanalyis, then, would be the systematic psychological study of the sites of our intimate lives’ ( 8 )

‘The great function of poetry is to give us back the situations of our dreams’ (15)

‘A rather large dossier of literary documentation on the poetry of houses could be studied from the single angle of the lamp that glows in the window’ (33)

‘Despite the fact that we were very close to one another, we remained three isolated individuals, seeing night for the first time’ (RILKE quoted p. 36)

‘…the increased intimacy of a house when it is besieged by winter’ (38)

Happily, I also found echoes of a couple of poems of my own at times, explaining something of my interest in house and their lived lives and in the section on the village at night as a collection of stars; ‘that the houses of men become earthly constellations’ (35)

‘George Sand said that people could be classified according to whether they aspired to live in a cottage or a palace’ (63)

‘And what a great life it would be if, every morning, every object in the house could be made anew by our hands, could “issue” from our hands’ (69)

‘An anthology devoted to small boxes, such as chests and caskets, would constitute an important chapter in psychology’ (81)

‘There is no doubt that Rilke liked locks. But who doesn’t like both locks and keys?’ (84)

‘The well-being I feel, seated in fron of my fire, while bad weather rages out-of-doors, is entirely animal … Well being takes us back to the primitiveness of the refuge.’ (91)

‘My recollection of the first bird’s nest that I found all by myself has remained more deeply engraved in my memory than  that of the first prize I won in grammar school for a Latin version’ (95)

‘There also comes a time when one rejects images that are too naive, and disdains those that have become too hackneyed. Certainly none is more hackneyed than that of the shell house. It is too simple to be elaborated felicitously and too old to be rejuvenated. It says what it has to say in a single world. But the fact remains that is is a primal image as well as an indestructible one.’ (121)

‘The cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it’ (150)

‘A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye, looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature’ (Thoreau quoted p. 210)

Houses, secret attics and basements, references to Rilke and Thoreau, shells, roads; this book has them all.