Feb 17, 2009

The Deeper Layers of Integration

The U. S. publisher (Archipelago Books) of Breyten Bretenbach's All One Horse calls it a collection of "lyrical and satirical dream-fables," which is an accurate a description. These pieces recall Michaux in their strangeness, and yet they don't feel as hermetic; if you looked at your everyday life just slightly askew, you might glimpse some of these characters brooding away in their alternate universe of anxious but beautiful obsessions. Since Breytenbach is a poet, an adventurous and challenging poet, he has some things to say here about the art that deserve meditation. Here's one, from a piece entitled "this unmemorable memory exists!":

By all means, let us not be distracted from the horrors of our everyday realities; let us continue denouncing and combatting the killing and the maiming and the slow indifference and death of memory. But to be a poet — that is, to aspire to the grace of pain — however obscurely, means not to lie. Let us, therefore, then also validate that other reality, the blacker one of primordial poetry. Let us be where water flows and a tree grows, where there's no conflict, where snakes make us dream and touch the deeper layers of integration. We must be intimate with ourselves, we must uncover the earth in us, the icy wall of eternal ecstasy, where stones live out their colours like washed-up petrified breaths of whales.

This brings to mind Gary Snyder's assertion that "As a poet, I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth; the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times."

Compare the Breytenbach/Snyder vision of poetry with the narrow views put forward in the manifestos published in the latest issue of Poetry (the exception being D. A. Powell's delicious anti-manifesto, "Annie Get Your Gun"). Of course, doing so requires acceptance of the notion that poetry has genuine value—beyond, that is, the entertainment value of stand-up comedy (though there's plenty of room for comedy in poetry, of course). If you do accept that notion, prepare to be taken for a bumpkin....

1 comment:

  1. Joe: I love the quote from Snyder, which I have often used in my classes to point out the foundational values of poetry--or more precisely, the wisdom that underlies the work of our best poets. When I studied under Snyder, he communicated these values and I was a bit too callow to fully understand them. However, I listened, I have remembered, and I keep working on it. Maybe some day I'll get there, or maybe it's enough just to to be working on it.


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