The other night I felt poet's block so I turned on the TV and watched the very trippy 70s movie, The Wiz, starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. In addition to captivating me with its carnivorous subways and poppy girls, The Wiz reminded me of something that a teacher once said. I believe she was quoting the poet Muriel Rukeyser and I believe she said this:
"You need only be a scarecrow for poems to land on."
The notion of the poet as a resting place, a channel or vessel for poems, is a real comfort to me when I feel like my creative faucet is down to a dribble. It's also an idea that's apparent in Barbara Guest's poem Words.
In Words, Guest erases the poet entirely and imbues words themselves with the traits of a human creator. First the "word" is personified as an individual, "eager to find another [word]/ as capable as a thorn." The word craves companionship and possesses a nesting instinct: the desire to "create a rather larger/ mansion filled with spoons and condiments." The single word is looking through the Crate and Barrel catalogue; the single word is looking for potential suitors. In joining with another word, the single word creates a home for itself.
But this home, or poem, is no permanent structure. The home is rented and renovations are to be made. Guest's words are shape-shifters, forming texts that are never truly final. The magic of poetry then lies in its potentiality and malleability.
In her poetic statement, Forces of Imagination, Guest conveys poems as active forces exercising human imagination, rather than the other way around. The poem is an entity capable of feelings; it enjoys its flux state. One might consider certain theories of reincarnation, in which the soul of a fetus chooses its parents. Likewise, in Guest's world, a poem seeks out a certain type of artist; an artist who possesses the qualities of subjectivity or openness.
Now, I am a tightly-wound sort of lass -- prone to panic -- not what you might call relaxed or particularly "open." Given the active nature of Guest's humanized poems, what is my role in a poem's creation? How do I engage in the world, work so that I can eat, yet still find time and space to write? Without sounding too woo-woo, how can I be open to receive my poems?
I suppose the goal is to seek a dichotomy between stimulation and meditation, imagination and reason. But that's a tall order. In New York City where I live, I have to find stillness in some very strange places. I write on the subway. I meditate in my bathroom. Poems land on me in Union Square.
Guest affirms that the poet is a tight-rope walker, or "acrobat", in a "balancing act between reality and the imaginative force at work within a poem." This balance is difficult to come by. But the next time I'm stuck, feeling only as good as my last work, I'd like to think of that potential poem as an active participant in its own birth.
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