Poets are monster slayers. I have always thought so, but I don’t picture a pen as the weapon. A pen is a pretty wimpy object, if you really look at one. And I don’t think our weapon is some mystical effect arising from poets’ voices, which aren’t any more shatteringly shrill than anyone else’s. Poets don’t shoot laser beams from eyes, or wield heavy books as maces. What’s our secret weapon? It is the singing metaphor.
What do I mean by “singing metaphor,” you ask? Think of it as a cricket’s wing and leg — two completely different things — brought together with the energy and intention of sound, season, landscape, time of day, and prevailing weather. Metaphor brings two things together in the mind, and the vibration sets off monster-slaying detonations.
This is why I’m currently in love with the poem by Nica Bengzon titled “Today We Are Canceling the Apocalypse” in her poetry collection Object Permanence from Gaudy Boy Press. She describes her favorite film, which I gather is from the anime genre of doom-from-beneath-the-ocean meets giant-robot-defenses operated by ordinary humans, and thereby describes her own complex, emotional self.
The girl chases a rabbit even if she has been told not to, into a city that stands whole only in memory. She comes out into memory on the last day that it is ever whole. The girl in memory is small and unarmored. She wears only a blue coat, carries in hand a red shoe with a broken strap. The girl sees the monster destroy the city purely by accident for no reason other than that she had been visiting the city when it emerged from the sea. The girl has lost her family in the crowd and cannot find them. The girl has lost her family under the rubble and will never find them again.
What does it mean to chase a rabbit into a memory? Her metaphor folds something in the world (a rabbit) together with an impulse in the mind. From the delicate awakening of the mind’s knowing something, the awareness of something, and the impossibility of being sure of it. I think that’s one of the great gifts of metaphor. The sense of ephemeral phenomenon, of what is outside of oneself, the sense of reaching out but not grasping too tightly. This is how poets hunt the monsters that haunt consciousness.
Bengzon’s poem closes the metaphor with more direct language about mental-emotional issues post-trauma.
Now, here in the ashes the girl walks to see the quiet that has devoured everything. The girl does not remember she has already lived through this. The girl has lost her way in the things she remembers. The girl does not remember there are other battles now that need her attention. The girl does not remember she was never meant to do battle alone...
Notice the quiet where the singing metaphor has stilled itself, and the language becomes almost clinical. I really like the way this collection travels back and forth between art and science, medicine and memory. Here’s Bengzon reading a brief poem and talking about her poetic, in a series from the academic institution where she teaches.
Note that “regular” metaphors are very powerful tools, too. We can make all kinds of metaphors for the same thing, and they will all have a piece of the truth of it. Poets and scientists alike use metaphors to erase monsters in the real world.
“Metaphor is found not just in image. It is also pervasive in the associative elements of situations.”T. Alan Broughton
Life is weird, and things overlap with each other in strange and wonderful ways sometimes. I love highlighting those things in my poetry and paintings, and yes, even in these blog posts. Today is a Hindu holiday — one of the nine evenings of Navratri — in which a fierce, demon-slaying goddess is venerated and called upon for help with our personal monsters. Enjoy this video — a beautiful “dancing” metaphor to honor this goddess, who also not-so-weirdly happens to be the goddess of poets.