Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1545) Ars Poetica
I have always aspired to a more spacious form that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose and would let us understand each other without exposing the author or reader to sublime agonies. In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent: a thing is brought forth which we didn't know we had in us, so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out and stood in the light, lashing his tail. That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion, though its an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel. It's hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from, when so often they're put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty. What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons, who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues, and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand, work at changing his destiny for their convenience? It's true that what is morbid is highly valued today, and so you may think that I am only joking or that I've devised just one more means of praising Art with the help of irony. There was a time when only wise books were read helping us to bear our pain and misery. This, after all, is not quite the same as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics. And yet the world is different from what it seems to be and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings. People therefore preserve silent integrity thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors. The purpose of poetry is to remind us how difficult it is to remain just one person, for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors, and invisible guests come in and out at will. What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry, as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly, under unbearable duress and only with the hope that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.
It's been little over a month now since Milosz died and I've finally managed to find the courage to send in a poem to mark his passing. I do this not because I feel I have something special to say about Milosz (I admit to having discovered him only about a year ago) but because as a long-time devotee of Minstrels I feel it would be a shame if so great a poetic voice passed away from among us and we said nothing. All his life Milosz found the words to make loss quiet and exact - exiled by silence, he found a way to fight it without screaming back. Now that he's dead, we owe it to him not to let the silence win. This poem is a good demonstration of just why Milosz, was, IMHO, so important to the poetry of his century. It was a century that Milosz himself described as a time when "We were permitted to shriek in the tongues of dwarfs and demons / But pure and generous words were forbidden / Under so stiff a penalty that whoever dared to pronounce one / Considered himself a lost man" (Milosz - A Task) - too much of the literary legacy of the century lies with Plath and Ginsberg, with Auden and Eliot, with Langston Hughes and Bishop and Berryman, with Neruda and Paz. This is not to say, of course, that these poets do not deserve their stature (far from it - their influence is clearly well deserved) or that they are the only ones from the last hundred years who "matter" - only that Milosz represents another and no less authentic strain of the poetic measure. As he put it himself: "in me there is no wizardry of words. I speak to you with silence, like a cloud or a tree." Milosz's voice is the voice of a twilight between the silence and the cry, at once gentle and threatened and uncertain. Milosz speaks from the heart, but his poems are not to be shouted or declaimed, they are to be read softly, as among a circle of intimates. He is not a flame - he is a lamp, his light low yet illuminating. Of course, Milosz is not alone here - much of Brodsky resonates with the same voice and at least some of Walcott. What makes Milosz special, I think (and I can't explain this) is that his voice is more humble because wiser, less bitter because more forgiving, more apt to find, if not joy, than at least peace. Irony is not a major theme for Milosz - on the contrary he specialises in making moral judgements straight to his reader's face (what other poet in the last fifty years would say "There was a time when only wise books were read"). Many people would argue that Milosz is less important than I make him out to be here (though fifty years of incredible poetry and a Nobel prize are pretty hard to argue with) and Milosz would be the first to agree with them. As I said earlier, this poem is a stunning summary of what Milosz's poems are about. As we think about his work, I think there are few better ways to remember him than as the poet who wrote "reluctantly / under unbearable duress and only with the hope / that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument". It's a test that few poets today could pass. Aseem. [Minstrels Links] Poems about poetry: Poem #187, Poetry for Supper -- R. S. Thomas Poem #188, Ars Poetica -- Archibald MacLeish Poem #189, dear Captain Poetry -- bpNichol Poem #190, Young Poets -- Nicanor Parra Czeslaw Milosz: Poem #837, Child of Europe Poem #1229, You Whose Name