Undermined silence

I try to explain, as at dinner today with my kids. I said, “I don’t like to hear arguing or complaining, so I don’t do either of those things. I like to hear poetry, so I make poetry.” I suggested then that they speak in poetry if they really expected me to listen. That resulted in a few minutes of silence, which erupted into a discussion of how many syllables are in “duh,” and whether it is a trochee or a spondee. And all of us laughing.

The poetic silence in the middle is what I try to explain sometimes, when I talk about poetry instead of making it. I recently found a little gem of an essay by Rae Armantrout on this. As a preface to her discussion, she lists some of the types of human silence:

There is the silence which admits mistake.

The silence which concedes personal limit, or finitude.

The silence which indicates the presence of the ineffable. Heidegger says, “The earth appears as itself only when it is perceived and preserved as that which is by its nature undisclosable, that which shrinks from every disclosure and constantly keeps itself closed up.”

There is the silence which is silenced by the presence of another.

The silence which waits for an unknown response. [Max] Picard says of a poet he admires, “He leaves a clear space into which another can speak. He makes the subject his own, but does not keep it entirely for himself. Such poetry is therefore not fixed and rigid, but has a hovering quality ready at any moment to belong to another.”

There is the silence that occurs when someone you have been considering from a distance turns and stops you with their look.

“The gleam that surrounds the word enclosed in human silence,” she explains, quoting Max Picard to describe the quest of this aesthetic in poetry.

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