Poetry as Argued Seduction
One benefit of being a Christian writer is the constant reminder, by a community of people who hold me accountable, that poetry is not salvation. I am constantly aware of the temptation I feel (and that I see exercised in the work of other poets) to make poetry something more sacred, more powerful than it can be. Certainly the language and vision poems might provide is needed, especially in a church often afraid of indirect and sensual assertions of the truth.
However, the longer I’ve written, the more I’ve come to see that poems are not magic; poetry is not eternal life. In fact, I believe that to sacralize poetry is to separate it dangerously from its sources - the languages and landscapes and social worlds from which it grows - and to risk making it an art form for the poetically elect. It is when I begin to expect poems, both those I write and those I read, to be poetry, and not a sacrament, that they come closest to meaning and making the differences they can: they become ways into the worlds that we know and suspect would be better.
My own poetry has grown most when I have sought to do a bit less in each poem. Early on as a writer, I often choked my work on too many ideas, too many notions. While still working to create poems that sing in several registers, I have learned that it is the body of my poetic output that can collectively say what I suspect.
As I look back and ahead at those poems, I see four forces that weigh on my work as a poet, pressuring their ways variously out of my mouth and onto the page:
I don’t consciously set out to make poems represent or embody any of these forces, but I recognize them when they appear. And I attempt to temper the power of any one of these heavy notions that might (and often do) weigh down a poem. Have I asked of a poem something it cannot do? Or have I written, as poet Scott Cairns suggests, a poem that tries to “to find things out, not to communicate some previously ossified conclusion.”
So though poetry is not salvific, it can change the vision of the poet, and (if the poet does her
job) of the willing reader. If poetry matters, it matters because it sensually persists in raising our
level of suspicion that mystery and juxtaposition linger nearer to the truth than do statistics and
taxonomies. Poetry persuades, or shifts our vision, not through magic, but through acts of argued
seduction, showing us what it might be like to leave neither our senses nor our minds absent from
Beethoven’s Romance in G
Here is why we listen--
What ordinary tasks you do
Our own common hands know these deft
But I have heard Barber explode
I have shifted in a hard chair,
Our bones are only sticks in flesh,
I want them, sometimes, on the ends
Satisfying envy, I comb
"She was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth." --Acts 16:14
A heart opens,
And there is God,
“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” --Mark 12:34
How near to the borders can we venture,
How close to the looming or invisible walls
Some creatures love to be sought, not found,
Perhaps our sore lips already speak the language of this nearby land.
We should watch where we walk.
A kingdom of margins will find us.
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