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Journal, Day Two
Yesterday’s entry raised questions about the possibility and value of uniquely poetic ways of seeing the world. It may seem a little precious to offer this idea, and maybe it is in the way that precious implies value, but not fragility per se. Precious and strong? Precious and clear maybe? But no more precious than any other kind of seeing and that’s what I hope to get at, and question, with today’s offering.
What does it mean to even have a different perspective? Poets ‘seeing things’ kind of goes with the territory: the American stereotype of (all) the loopy/loony artist who makes great work but at the expense of the ‘normal’ soul. Is this a necessary requirement? Is seeing the world from an ‘artistic perspective’ any different from seeing buildings differently as a construction worker, structural engineer, office staffer or maintenance worker? If we can consider the unique way of seeing for a poet, can each of us, in our multitude of roles have our own unique vision in each of them?
The Bean Eaters
by Gwendolyn Brooks
They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.
And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts
and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.
The details Ms. Brooks gives us presents a new way of understanding a pair of down and out folks whose faded lives encourage a glossing over by our eyes. By noting each element, she shines them up, she heightens their lives in ways we generally might not. We may miss them because we don’t care or because we don’t have her eyes and words.
Another beautiful poem that conveys the precise perception of words can offer can be found in the poetry collection Cranial Guitar by Bob Kaufman:
Variations on a theme by morning,
Two lady birds move in the distance.
Gray jail looming, bathed in sunlight.
Violin tongues whispering.
Drummer, hummer on the floor,
Dreaming of wild beats, softer still,
Yet free of violent city noise,
Please, sweet morning,
Stay here forever.
This poem could be a metaphor or reference to something secret or maybe something Kaufman saw everyday. His language is less overt in meaning. Yet you can see that he attended to every word: the sound of the letters as well as their meaning. He has honed his perception his particular way.
It is often true that mothers can tell when their young children are lying, even when they (the kids) are good at it. The parents attend to nuances in the child’s gesture, tone and meaning. Whether telling the (poetic) truth or by telling who’s lying, there is a particular advantage to this specially developed perception (like the poet or the parent, what one chooses to do with the information is another point entirely).
And often that’s the resistance, right? The particular advantage. This could be seen as keeping people ‘out of your loop:’ “I know something, you don’t know. I’m better than you.” And I confess, I do sense a certain loss of dexterity around people who can crochet well, sew at all or who can fix mechanical devices (no matter how quickly I can type). Artists often revel in this world of special aesthetic access (making inside jokes and snide remarks about people in as well as far out of their circle) by keeping people out.
I hope, though, that this particular vantage point lets people in. What is it that poets, lawyers, teachers, construction workers, our animal companions and trees, any one or thing we attribute something unique to, achieve in their specialness? I sense their knowledge and appreciation for what they know and this is what gives us permission to see in each of our ways.
Poetic ways of seeing—hyper-perceptual, experimental, natural, loving, hostile—sometimes take time, re-viewing, post-viewing and studying, to get. Sometimes, at least on one level, they are knowable at the outset depending on one’s access to work of that type. But what these ways of seeing can offer us, poets or not, is a poetic way of seeing in ourselves, encouraging ways to cultivate these kinds of seeing and equalizing our innate ability for something we all share, language.