Ars Poetica

Arachne Weaving (source unknown)

Spiders are born with the innate knowledge and biological make up to spin webs.  No great spider of ancient history invented web design which all spiders since have learned to imitate.  It is something unique to their species and something coded in their genes; so is language in human beings, so says Stephen Pinker in The Language Instinct.  What then should we think of poetry: the art of language? It is one of the highest forms of expression using that uniquely human characteristic of a complex, combinatorial sign system, something that as of yet descibes so much of what it means to think and communicate according to our kind.  Poetry both spins the silken thread of relation and then sews together what dissecting logic often rends apart.  It is the gossamer web attached to the rusted barbs of a wire fence on one end and to the rocking cyan nodule of a bluestem grass-stalk on the other.  The tensile strength and elasticity of those strands of connection, like spider’s silk, are greater than those steel partitions forged by reason. Could they be said to be the most human of all forms of expression?

Through the addition of musical qualities like lyricism and rhythm, and the performative qualities of being read aloud, poetry then brings together elements of ritual that whisper certain truths to our instinctual side.  It is an art.  Thus, words are not merely a textual medium of direct communication, but a dynamic system that can become a living conduit of the breath–spiritus, and when sculpted by the refined hand of a master, they open portals to new levels of consciousness, to whole new worlds within our own,, built upon the back of being.  Like a ritual chant or religious hymn, the pulses of formal poetics are capable of transcending the bounds of space and time, for language is not limited by the physical world as is the soft organ that generates it.

This natural linguistic propensity we have can only go so far without honing the tools and the mind of the craftsman.  To be an art demands technique.  As a ballet dancer must practice again and again the same position in relevѐ before finding her center of balance, a poet must repeat the same form, meter, and rhetorical devices again and again until it becomes a second nature.  The fresh poet falls many times as he or she learns how to dance a sonnet or a ballad, but gradually the mind’s muscle memory takes hold of that boundary and finds a new freedom from within it–the horizon becomes a shore to depart from, to build off of, to breach.  It is then that the classical technique, an ornament, armament, enhancement of the natural qualities of language, becomes a foundation from which the matured poet can deviate, choreographing new forms and styles that will match the music and subject of each new poem. In departing from the shore, the craft defines new horizons.

Poetry is a game with rules like chess or dating, and the successful players try every move so they know what works.  Of course, having a guide to help navigate strange waters always helps.  We should invoke the spirit of classical forms–eidos; these were the first heartbeats and faces of poetics; they suggest to that there is something quite natural about them.  They reveal the feed foreward and feedback dynamism of form wed to function. In poetry that sings, not bleats or babbles, the time signature moves with audition, somatosensory pulsation, imagery vision, as much as with semantic resonance. Metric and sonorous, the constraint turns simple metaphors baroque–they blosom into  many more dynamic, fractal sensory eruptions with their curls, tendrils, flourishes.

We observe the world through what is most receptive, those sensitive parts of us the brain knows the many languages of. Who is to say that what we read in all those fragments is not the poetry of cognition–it oscillates, scintilates, harmonizes. The left hemisphere interpreter may even urge us to poetize through choral echolalia–the notes passed between episodes–remembering, talking to oneself, calling, dreaming. Value crowns from the deeply reflective generation of language art–beauty drapes over whatever the mind dress in poetry’s disguise. This process–transcriptive celebration–is life giving and is as much a lesson in our nature as any biological, anthropological, or economic system. For now, at least, poetry is uniquely ours.  When we look to the trades, the traditions of the past, we return to something deeper than history and more true that a record–our own drive toward aesthetic revelry. We celebrate by dwelling in the world. We construct our identities with words. We bond and bestow and become through breath; we sew ourselves into the fabric of memory with spirit, embroidering our names upon being–a world elsewhere, a world all our own, and we call it poetry.

About thepoetsglass

Professor, poet, philosophical dilettante, plus some other impressively heady alliterations. Instructional designer and copywriter. Cognitive neuroscientist by night. Self-diagnosed coffee addict, sometime dancer, brooding bibliophile, and an always salty sailor.
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