A Handful of Chisels: On Stones & Poetry by Claire Potter

Each month we feature a guest post from a contributor to Poetry's current issue. Claire Potter's poem "The Art of Sideways" appears in the May 2016 issue. Previous posts in this series can be found on the Editors' Blog.

In August 1913, Freud took a summer walk through the Dolomites with two friends, one of them being perhaps Rilke. In the idyll, Freud and the poet discuss how flowers and nature are prone to destruction and decay and possess an ill-fated beauty. And yet, in contrast to the poet's pessimistic view, Freud sees value, and therefore a heightened beauty, in transience, arguing that scarcity and limitation only augment worth. He explains that what spoils an enjoyment of transient beauty was an antipathy to mourning.

The question of transience—as an expression of mourning—is almost a silent one, residing perhaps between the lines of all great poems—it is the question that stretches, enquires about, what we hold onto in a poem, what remains once the page has been closed. In some ways, it is the infans of the child before they learn how to speak, building word upon word, like raising stones upon a fledgling tower. A tower built, in Mallarmé's terms, from words not ideas. Often these stones are not squared, their sides are not equal and their angles not perpendicular, leading perhaps to a sentence that wobbles, a wall that inclines, an architrave that bends. And here, residing within, is Freud's sense of an oblique mourning, a transience we cherish and hold for a fleeting moment, before it is gone, or from another angle, indelibly remains.

Read the full article on the Poetry Foundation website.