Zōēpoiesis: Four Theses
1) Poetry is to life as a lens is to light, or as leaven is to flour; as a lens is to light, so the poet is to life—a gathering and transmitting of something that otherwise can’t be seen; as leaven is to flour, so life is to human beings, transforming them into poets.
a. Just as a confrontation with the cold distances separating the stars from a telescope’s lens is a precondition of seeing them, and just as any real transformation entails a death and loss of identity, so the openness uncovered by dread is necessary for life’s emergence.
2) Life itself isn’t disruptive—its nature is love. Nevertheless, it invariably cuts against the grain of the world, which tries to discipline or destroy it.
a. The world’s nature shows itself in its tendencies: the tendency to categorize, objectify, monetize; the tendency toward alienation, corruption, control; the tendency toward fantasy, spectacle, violence.
i. From the flames of an unholy sacrifice the image of a future rises, a dragon that promises safety and continuity but breeds disaster and fear, which tightens its grip.
3) The emergence of life has the effect of shifting one’s perspective from contingency to necessity, future to present, time to place.
a. The entrance to the poem is marked by a passage from time to place, a disclosure uncannily received like a piece of forgotten music, an architecture and a place of which one is a part and a traversal in steps already taken.
4) We want a new sense of poetry and of life, one in which happiness and freedom come not through self-preservation or advancement but obedience to the life and poem that set the way.
1) Cinoti (Sanskrit), to gather and pile up. Logos (Greek), word, self-revelation, letting be seen, from legein (Greek), a laying of one thing next to another, a gathering together in generative contention. Poiesis (Greek), a surging forth and bringing to stand. Poet, from poetes (Greek), maker, gathered by the event of life.
2) Life says, “I want you to be, I want you to be in and through me—become what you are.”
a. What you are, we are, and where you are, I am.
We know where we’re
we know where we’re
we’re going to our father-
i. Babylon is antipoetry, 666, site presiding over life’s profanation and murder.
3) Worm turns, needs to get worked out. Worm’s working sheds seeds. Seeds need to shatter to see the sun. “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower” makes all the kids lyres. We hung our harps on the trees, sat down by the river, and wept. A little scrap of music wanders through hell, weeping to remember what it was.
A DEATH-BLOW is a life-blow to some
Who, till they died, did not alive become;
Who, had they lived, had died, but when
They died, vitality begun.
4) When I try to make you, I erase you. When I try to remember, I forget. Can’t get my head around the fact that I can’t do anything myself. Plan to fall and forget, to walk through night with the palm of a psalm in your hand, to hear the wind rustling in the palms. Plan to cede, to see the sun on the leaves, to feel the earth call out for its seeds.
1) Seed nestled in a sack likes the cool dark, gets blown onto strange soil and can’t tell whether it’ll get eaten, rot, or if the ground will yield. Should it take, seed still needs to break, eject roots and shoots, drink, and struggle toward sun. Early on, seed can’t even remember what calls it to transform.
2) There is no money in this kind of work, no future, only one step in front of the other gathered by a will that says forget and remember: forget yourself and remember me. I forget myself to remember you, I want you to be: my will is yours.
a. Fantasy and self, idea and image, assuring myself of myself by naming you, convincing you you’re what we say you are, failing to see, glancing, falling prey, only this/that, here/there, Heimat…
i. Apollo, lord sun, gets too close and bleaches everything legible and dry. Dionysus surges up and bathes some kernels in hot oil. The kernels start to sing and pop, unwrapping abysses, manic laughter, and masks.
3) With life an uncanny sense that what is received is already written—not in the sense of a copy or repetition, but of having always been there. I unfold into something whose action is complete, extending behind and ahead of me, but which I can only see in the present, a wave whose total length has fanned out, but which I enter through a door in the side.
4) Jack Spicer’s Bohemia is “…a dreadful, wonderful place. It is full of hideous people and beautiful poetry. It is a hell full of windows into heaven. It would be wrong of me to drag a person I love into such a place against his will. Unless you walk into it freely, and with open despairing eyes, you can’t even see the windows. And yet I can’t leave Bohemia myself to come to you—Bohemia is inside of me, in a sense is me, was the price I paid, the oath I signed to write poetry.”
a. Descend into hell, bust through a window, leaven into heaven. Amen.
1) Just as music’s true nature is only expressed when it is played, so life can’t be schematized, but is instead known through feeling and identified in its effects. The process of dormancy, of breaking, of becoming identical with a command, describes not only a process of biological life, but of spirit.
2) If you’re a poet, expect trouble, because poetry is the emergence of the unforeseeable and ungovernable into domains whose existence is predicated on the repression of the unknown. Innovations in the market, while disruptive, serve to reify relations, and require continuity to insure growth. The state, which under neoliberalism serves the market, works to maintain equilibrium and open new markets, but the market, ever tightening its grip, tears holes in the people and earth it needs to survive. Poetry is life’s rebuke to the lie that the world’s patterns are necessary for survival and will last forever.
3) Imagine a computer capable of simulating every outcome to a given situation: a map of all possible worlds. As in a game, forces compete to actualize certain possible worlds. The objective is to find reality—to uncover the path from the possible to the real. Poetry is the activity that, amidst contingency, discloses reality—that sifts necessity and the real from the contingent and merely possible.
a. Aligning with life is like waking from a dream, like tracking something through a labyrinth that retreats beyond each corridor, something that doesn’t want to be pinned down but that wants us to follow it, and whose following causes the labyrinth to disappear, revealed essentially as an arena in which to become the action of turning, a rhythm and a way that is the expression of the thing we sought.
4) Seed needs to shed its shell, poet needs to enter hell. After you taste the river and forget, you can begin to remember. Long is the way and hard that through hell leads to a single window, but there is water on the other side for those who are thirsty and love to drink.
Poet and editor Robert Fernandez was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in Miami. He earned an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is the author of the collections We Are Pharaoh (2011), Pink Reef (2013), and Scarecrow (Wesleyan University Press, 2016). He is also the co-translator, with Blake Bronson-Bartlett,...