Half-way through

Night-storm

Then, the flood: flash. Side of road overwashed
as we are washed over. Swept. Wind is the broom
and we the debris. Unnecessary as dust or crumbs.
What name can we give to this occurrence? Call it
natural. Disaster. Or just a Thing That Happens.
Not that the name means much to us once we drown
in it, sucked under and curled into water’s embrace
whether sea or river or the lake become enraged
by thunderous sky or thunderous quaking crusts
the planet [they say] possesses. Loose scutes or
scales. Loose bark, like a tree. Pieces of slate
shorn sideways. Shear. Water. A species of bird,
Calonectris, that touches earth only to breed.
They skim sea. We cannot. We tumble under, breath
withheld until we can no longer wait and inhale
water. Absent our past gills, we inundate our lungs.
The crash of a body blasted from surf to shore.
Gasping. Thus I waken, shaken with sobs, damp to
the core, bruised, stiff, coated in mud and sand.
I wonder. All that inside me. As though I could know.
Sense the absence after the dwindling and oblivion.
Or is it creativity–imagining swell and loss?
Which may be nothing. Nothing like this dream.
~

Today marks the halfway point in my challenge to myself to write a poem a day for National Poetry Month. Is it getting easier yet? (No.)

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Reveries toward childhood

My childhood was happy and full of isolation—bored, lonely, occasionally melancholy daydreams and reflections. Some readers will find contradiction in that opening sentence, but Gaston Bachelard would have understood. His chapter (in The Poetics of Reverie) on Childhood and Reverie resonates deeply with me.

The claims Bachelard makes for the crucial importance of childhood reverie are that the child, solitary, daydreaming, finds happiness as the “master” of his or her reveries and that poetry is the way adults can return to the deep daydreams of childhood in which humans are—briefly—free beings and fully receptive: “Poets convince us that all our childhood reveries are worth starting over again.”

He further claims that images “reveal the intimacy of the world” and that all poetic images are a kind of remembering. I suppose this particular claim for poetry puts Bachelard in the “deep image” arena of poetry—Rilke, for example, as filtered through the concepts of Carl Jung, whose influence appears everywhere in The Poetics of Reverie. I waver in my complete acceptance of this claim, though I can’t yet articulate why—because I do agree image can evoke, or even be part and parcel of, intimacy. It may not be the sole method of achieving the shock of recognition or the tug of familiarity among readers, however. I’d assert that Ammons, Menashe, even Ponsot (in her tiny poems in Springing) get there by other means.

What I love about Bachelard’s philosophy on childhood reveries is the idea of “reveries toward childhood.” Interesting phrase, and I wonder if the translator (Daniel Russell) struggled with it. To dream toward childhood denotes an intentional action, a moving forward in order to reach back, a paradox. He claims we can almost reach (regain) the child’s “astonishment of being,” our “world of the first time,” through reading poems. We daydream with the poem itself…not with the poet, who remains a distinct individual with his or her own being and past.

I’ve experienced this feeling, and now Bachelard has described it for me.

The philosopher was late in his life when he composed these reflections; this is his last book. As he explores the “uselessness” of childhood memories, the flashes of recall through sensory stimuli, he posits that reveries toward childhood nourish the person who is in “the second half of life.” Combining memory and reverie can restore us, he says; and to do so, we first beautify our pasts—even our tragic episodes are reconsidered, reconstructed, through the lens of distant memory. (Hence the opportunity for sentiment). I think he means that once we have dealt with vivid past traumas earlier in adulthood, older people are able to recall the amazement of having once been new to the world. Perhaps this is merely sentiment, but it is certainly a phenomenon that appears in many works of drama, fiction, even memoir.

Bachelard describes such experiences as “the strange synthesis of regret and consolation” and adds that “a beautiful poem makes us pardon a very ancient grief.” (I love that sentence.)

In this way—among other ways, I might add—poetry’s images help us believe in the world, revive “abolished” reveries in a fresh light; the poet’s images may not be our images at all, yet they work to move the reader toward childhood, by which I mean toward a seeing-afresh of human experience. I may be parting ways with Msr. Bachelard here, for he classifies these images as almost wholly archetypal, and I do not; nonetheless, I don’t think our differences negate his claims nor hurt my general agreement with his insights. The amazement that took off the top of Emily Dickinson’s head when she read a great poem, the astonishment of being that arrives via the poem, strikes me (and the pun is intended) as exactly like the Zen whisk: “Wake up!”

And what is a child but a being who is wholly awake to the world?

“When we are children, people show us so many things that we lose the profound sense of seeing, Bachelard says. Yes, like Whitman when he “heard the learnéd astronomer”… Whitman’s speaker—the child in him—ventures outside to see the stars. He does not need to be shown.

This is a long blog entry, I know. But if you’ve gotten this far, I hope you are eager to go read some poems now.

Wake up and dream!

Still daydreaming in adolescence…(Switzerland, 1974)

Re-reading & reverie

Writing a book is a hard job. One is always tempted to limit himself to dreaming it.

Above all, the great books remain psychologically alive. You are never finished reading them.

–Gaston Bachelard

~

In The Poetics of Reverie, Bachelard writes of reveries on words, then moves to reveries on reveries themselves, which brings him to books. Books (philosophy, fiction, and poetry books in particular) are, for Bachelard, a kind of dream made real. Books are places to dawdle and to dream as one reads, places in which the reader can interact with imagination: the reader’s  imagination, not the author’s imagination. The author’s work, if it is great, tempts readers into reverie. For this reason, Bachelard says he likes to read his favorite books many times. Each reading produces new reverie.

The chapter in which he makes his case for literature as reverie is an odd one, less of a philosophical argument and more a blend of literature, psychology–particularly along Jungian themes, and sociology, with side trips into discussions of duality (more on the masculine and feminine), the physiology of sleep/dreaming, alchemy (more Jung!), Strindberg, Goethe, Nietzsche, Henri Bosco, and Balzac.

I prefer the chapters on either side of this one (on words and on childhood). But this section made me consider the books I have re-read in my lifetime, and the idea of dreaming with literature. And the lovely idea of books as “psychologically alive.” What a terrific observation!

When I was a child, I preferred reading the next book to re-reading a favorite, although there were a few books I read over, more than once in some cases. As I read my way through high school and college, my inclination toward novelty continued. Why spend time reading books I had already read? The dreaming-with the book aspect Bachelard describes did happen for me, but the reflection lasted only as long as my engagement with each text. I was not a “close reader,” and as a result it was easy to get wrapped up in the dream-world when I read fiction. Still, the dream was the book’s dream, not my own. Closer reading is what leads to reverie, I think: re-reading and reflecting.

It was poetry that taught me to read more closely, to re-read, to dream with the text, to find true reverie in the process of reading. Poetry has always felt psychologically alive to me, and I agree that one is never finished reading a great poem. Or a great book.

I find I must also concur with Bachelard that “one of the functions of reverie is to liberate us from the burdens of life.” Nothing like a daydream, or a great piece of literature or art, to free us–however temporarily–from the things that weigh us down.