Red copper gold

Landscapes fade to gold around here. Gold is their resting state, revealed only just before the dark. Whole hillsides melt into caramel. Sunrise seems to last all day long, but the light dissolves a little more week by week. Light a candle before you read a poem at night.

watercolor painting of autumn foliage

To make anything with this landscape, you have to hurry.

I wonder if I am looking at a landscape or at myself when I write a poem. Certainly, the accidents of encounter — with light or flora or fauna or other people — fall into the active gesture, but there’s a shadow of self in most art forms that we can’t evade.

But we can try. Mischief, or oppositional and combative energy converted through self-censure is a rich source of creativity. A recent share by a colleague of this TED Talk has intrigued me all this week.

“So, who am I? Well, um, I kinda don’t really know that myself very much, often.”

Taika Waititi

And I think that’s the point of creative works: to point out the big I-don’t-know of our selves with humor, tenderness, sorrow, curiosity, and pardon.

The double-helix of poetry — lyric and dramatic — gets us close. Lyric brings out the little voice in us that turns out to be not so little. And dramatic poetry is a way of imaginatively engaging that voice to investigate not only social and political situations, but also our own mental processes and our very humanness. In both, the poet’s gesture tends to be a kind of talking to oneself, while someone is listening in.

Poetry is a necessity of life. It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.

C.D. Wright

The performative elements in poetry can be self-revelatory actions, in which the design of the poem exposes chasms and uncomfortable truths we don’t necessarily want others to see, but which we preserve as hard-won steps on the journey. Sometimes this can feel, instead, like a war going on between self and Self.

Many people like battle scenes (just thinking of the Lord of the Rings films I have tried to watch with my family), but I prefer the romantic view of the self looking deep into the beloved, seeking for a golden landscape on the brink of darkness. Ghazal is a perfect form for this kind of revelation: a questing quiet, a rhyme and repeat that won’t let go, a final surrender within the poet’s own name embedded in the concluding couplet. This ghazal came along in this week’s Poem-a-Day series.

“Ghazal of Oranges” by Jan-Henry Gray, Poem-a-Day,, Academy of American Poets

Through recognition of the emotional landscape, we gain a reprieve from the hostilities that, unfortunately, rule over most of daily life. Writing a poem then is like a coffee break with yourself in a cafe. Sit by a window, and it gives you light for reading, a view of others passing by outside, reflections of those inside with you, shadow of yourself on glass.

Better to take advice though from William Stafford, an American poet who took peace and moral courage very seriously in life and work, on the way to proceed.

My guide is the self, and it’s adventuring in the language brings about communication. This process-rather-than-substance view of writing invites a […] dual reflection:

  • Writers may not be special, sensitive or talented in any usual sense. They are simple engaged in sustained use of a language skill we all have. Their “creations” come about through confident reliance on stray impulses that will, with trust, find occasional patterns that are satisfying.
  • But writing itself is one of the great, free human activities. There is scope for individuality, and elation, and discovery, in writing. For the person who follows with trust and forgiveness what occurs to [them], the world remains always ready and deep, an inexhaustible environment, with the combined vividness of an actuality and flexibility of a dream. Working back and forth between experience and thought, writers have more than space and time can offer. They have the whole unexplored realm of human vision.
William Stafford

An inexhaustible gold, no matter what the light and landscape are up to.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s