The art of poetry coheres around a common field that supplies us with our common humanity. At a time of “the breaking of nations” poetry is an often overlooked resource. It comes in large and small packages. To make sense of Dante’s “comedy” requires a feeling for that core of common experience.
Critics may disagree about the “exact” nature of that “experience” — if only because it is impossible to put into determinate, “critical” language. Images, however, can telescope the various dimensions, the criss-crossing relativities and proportions that inform a good poem large or small. Much of the labor of writing poetry is in successive attempts to getting all these angles focussed for the reader. As the Lu Chi”s third-century “art of writing” emphasizes, only after much rewriting will “passions come into perspective” (Sam Hamill’s translation). The art of poetry consumes a lifetime; one is never quite sure one can rest on one’s laurels. Perhaps there’s some truth to the idea of the Muse, that big thing outside all our makings. In the end, the poem finds us, poets and readers alike. Though again we have no perfect words for it, the process of creation is a “sanctifying” one. Poetry is a sacred business, however earthy (and there’s nowhere else they may be found) the materials.
Amanda Bell’s book Undercurrents (Alba Publising, 2016) is a great example of how the art of the small poem — the haiku — can achieve such coherence.
such a fat bumblebee
The most common of organizing metaphors — the journey — is made relevant here by being interrupted, the horizon suddenly shrunk to a small spot not on the map. And yet the “fat bumblebee” stops our “progress” because it reminds us of what we should be doing as we forge ahead. As any walker knows, the mind often seems like extra-baggage when one is on one’s way.
There is a “universal” that we share with the bumblebee and we grasp that “universal” through this modest-looking haiku. It is not a function of the mind returning to itself. That it is almost impossible to speak of it — certainly philosophers contribute nothing to this conversation — only means that the poem, however unprepossessing, has its work cut out for it.