Poetry, What Is It?
Poetry is a place, more specifically a room, more specifically a dark room — a transformational alchemical zone perforated by an exaggerated endnote, that is, the whatever of whatever’s left at the end of an experience/thought/emotion/vision/feeling/movement/mood/dream. In the room the whatever is processed, developed, and (sometimes) it comes into focus, and sometimes this is called a poem.
Poetry is an enigmatic alchemy. More precisely, you might say that poetry serves as an analogue to the Lifeworld, and is possibly it’s most trustworthy bi-product. In some sense, poetry is a making-things-clearer, through a series of distortions and obscuring of surfaces.
Back to the room. The walls in this room are never smooth, the cracks and the holes are left just as they are, and that’s just fine, no plaster of paris required. The paint is chipped away, revealing layer upon layer of yellowed wallpaper from tenants of distant lifetime-agos. You know the room has been inhabited before, but by whom is not necessarily all that important. To acknowledge the ghosts is enough.
It should be mentioned here that the walls in the room are also not joined at right angles. The room is circular, more of a silo, so that when you walk around in the dark blindly, with your fingertips trailing along the walls’ surface, you can’t really gauge where you’ve started, or where you are in space. There are no referents, it’s a bit of a void, but to be honest, it’s a good one, a good one because you feel a lot, but more importantly, because the darkness has you relying a lot more on sound than you ordinarily would.
The way things resonate in the circular dark room with no referents becomes increasingly essential, but one would be hard pressed to state this as a natural fact. Nevertheless, the dark room becomes an echo chamber, where the unsaid resounds most loudly. This, in some circles, is sometimes referred to as the poetic voice, which is not to say diction. More generically, these sounds can be referred to, for now, as preverbal whispers. Incidentally, it should be mentioned that the point is not not really to say anything, so much as try to listen and to be heard in equal measure.
It’s been noted that sometimes the walls in the room grow spores, this modifies the sound of the dark room slightly, however, this may or may not have bearing on the resolution of your poem. But not to worry, the spores are merely a figurative representation of sound, an imagistic impression of your own mind thinking. If you can get around to recognizing them as such (movements of your mind, that is), that’s a good starting point, now you’re getting somewhere.
Beyond hearing your own mind’s thoughts, in the room you can hear your cells proliferating, you can notice the amplified rhythmic pulse of stardust coursing through your veins, and gradually the ability to modify the RPMs of your neural flashes as they travel along the superhighway of your spine becomes increasingly accessible, if not desirable.
Occasionally, the influx of outside noises, amassed by too much time spent scrolling on social media, can become problematic, but it’s ok, with time, you get better at drowning out the irrelevant. Yes, it takes practice, but also a willingness, a willingness to stay, a willingness to stay in the dark room for longer and longer stretches of time and hush the peripheral sounds of outside distraction.
So, what I can say, for the moment, is that it might be helpful to consider thinking of poetry as a verb, and if poetry were a verb, then as the imperative tense of the intransitive verb, listen: Listen! In other words, hear/feel everything, then in an alchemical process, in the deep dark recess of your circular dark room with no referents, in a flash of over-exposure, in the flicker of a momentary light, capture it, develop it, transpose it on paper.
This may just be another way of saying poetry is in service of attention. Pay attention.
Razielle Aigen is author of Light Waves The Leaves (above/ground press 2020). Her poems appear in Entropy, Deluge, Contemporary Verse 2, Ghost City Press, Train: a poetry journal, Bad Dog Review, The Anti-Languorous Project, Talking About Strawberries all of the Time, and elsewhere. Razielle holds a B.A. in History and Contemporary Studies from Dalhousie/King’s University, and is an alumna of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. More of Razielle’s work can be found at razielleaigen.com and through Twitter @ohthepoetry