The prompt of questioning, and recent reading on ethics, have led me to pose for myself a framework for poems that walk between the abstract (ideas, values, philosophies) and the more concrete, pragmatic phenomena in my life (ethics, gardens, weeds, human beings). I find myself thinking again about edges, about fringes, hedgerows, the between-spaces.
That happens to be where doubt arises, too–when we feel in-between, on the edge, and in all likelihood, uncertain.
Fanny Howe, excerpt from “Doubt”
While a whole change in discourse is a sign of conversion, the alteration of a single word only signals a kind of doubt about the value of the surrounding words.
Poets tend to hover over words in this troubled state of mind. What holds them poised in this position is the occasional eruption of happiness.
While we would all like to know if the individual person is a phenomenon either culturally or spiritually conceived and why everyone doesn’t kill everyone else, including themselves, since they can— poets act out the problem with their words.*
Acting out problems and doubts in words. Yes, that directive works for poetry as I understand it. Theater, a related art, allows an acting out of conflicts employing a method that keeps us from killing ourselves and each other. The same may be said for any art; perhaps even our development of a philosophy of aesthetics offers the possibility of acting out.
And there is always room for doubt, as doubt has a way of making room in us and among us. The alteration of a single word–from you to them, from proper to prosper, from hie to high: in student writing, these are generally spelling errors; in the work of a thoughtful poet, they may signal a change in viewpoint, a pun that twists the initial intention, a turn in the poem’s story or rhetoric, a region of ambiguity. Howe wrestles with doubt and celebrates it:
“Doubt is what allows a single gesture to have a heart.”
Any single gesture. The prayer hands, the bow, the outstretched arm, the Mona Lisa’s smile, the inked line, the poem.
The trapeze artist who walks along a genuine edge, balanced.
Doubt may live deep in the center of everything, but it is hidden there. Along the fringe of things, where the meadow and the forest meet, doubts are much more visible and less harmful.
What we learn along the edge we can take with us into the deeps: our doubts and ambiguities go with us, a kind of enrichment we might learn to accept instead of resent, if we are poets. The troubled state of mind persists, but “the occasional eruption of happiness” keeps the balanced hovering possible.
That eruption of happiness? I am familiar with it. Sometimes, when I’m working on a poem, I feel like a kite in an inconstant wind.
*Howe, Fanny. Gone : Poems. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.