Teach Me How to End, Please
How do you take yourself out of your language so poetry can talk to all parts of yourself? "Welcome to Harriet," says trauma teaching poet. Hello folks, glad to join the community again, and just in time to be considered the first week of OUR month. Though this annual rite does a bang-up job of reminding me how out of touch I am…it lights a fire in the continual gyre that catapults sense out of logic, that is, the dissection of language into something beneath connection that lets me reach out of something I'm stuck in. Something intermorsed by a revolving indecision—to move or stay in the equanimity of no control—a vertigo within language looking for a way out. The poet's job—to connect layers, skim the surface, dive the moment, and then…breathe out.
I thought I'd write a bit about looking for that way out…from in. But doing the Escher-rabbit-hole-with-words reminds me of an ancient poetry mentor who said, "if you're tripping over a particular word or line when you read a poem out loud…get rid of it." So what I'm actually writing about is skirting around a traumatic event that occurred in my life recently, and then wondering if it's worth discussing in an open forum like this. But then, how to infiltrate the intimate with refractive mirroring is the nature of creativity, isn't it? And the question worth dissecting might be, how to take the flow you're handed and bring it to an external wilderness while respecting its personal trajectory? How to bring that personal narrative from out of the shadows into an abstract portrayal that writes your life while living it? How to hide the details while mining the impact?
Consider the diagnosis of a fatal illness, the hospital-stay teetering on death, the partner as a go-between, testing their fragile will, the surgery survived, the arrival at home to an even deeper tragedy…but hold on. Here I was ready to share a private moment of trauma as an entry into vulnerability and the human capacity for porous realignment, puerile recognition defaced by pride. But all those details and the emotion they involve…too raw, exhausting, "personal."
If our life is dictated by the meaning we assign it, how much control is there in letting go? When does the poem come to you in the midst of your event? At what moment do you let it steal or scrape off the words you were using for your personal moment to suddenly appear in your artistic moment? Lots of questions in this post, sorry! Working through something…akin to a chosen outcome—for the benefit of a psyche that thinks it knows outcome—reassembling an outcome for morality or ease—implying the one without the other.
The expected outcome is death to a poem, to any "artistic" beginning…in quotes because who can claim what will move when? Who can tell when something ends…whether poem or beginning? One of my first loves couldn't understand my poetry when I first began my life as a poet, I had to end it with her. I didn't understand what I wrote either but I know I needed unconditional support. I can take a well-placed hit now, my fear lies outside language now. How do we handle someone else's relationship to fear when it affects our own? The question centers around the event and the telling. If there's a third person involved, a go-between, an alter ego with a layered narrative that I can easily hang a story on, no matter how dark, the protaganist will be able to carry what the storyteller can't. The implication that your life has been used up, nothing left to do…how to deal with that?
It becomes a question when I do have something left and someone to share it with. We are as compassionate as we are allowed to be. An opening is presented for us to take. And whether that step makes the others grander or affects the ground we cover…is what brings the chance for something outside ourselves into a life fully realized. Nobility, some would say. What is noble about helping someone travel into their next plane? If we feel the human characteristic called love…does that mean we're allowed to take life into our hands...for love? How fragile is the need to help, outweighed by the need to listen? To just be there and catch the trauma, to let the person breathe that last breath into the next…into our own, even?
Am I spilling too many beans here? We're all fine now. Got some poems out of it, if that's what it takes to create from what you're given. I so don't want to write about this episode, the time spent over the last month, trying to balance, literally, life with death. How incredibly energy-spent the fact of life. I'd much rather log onto a reality site and watch the failings of another rose. How I'm so ready to leave this keyboard for another. The surface, skimmed. Our job, not done yet. We need to call people and let them know. We bring the news to all the friends on the list. The continual telling is meant to capture the spontaneity of the story's initial burst. How apt that it also capture its initial end, over and over. The poet's job, to speak the unspeakable, to find it first, the inside on the outside.
A self-proclaimed “lingualisualist” rooted in the languages of sight and sound, Edwin Torres was born in the Bronx and is a longtime resident of New York City. He is a poet whose highly acclaimed performances and live shows combine vocal and physical improvisation and theater. He is the author of...