Thursday, May 18, 2006

this animal life...

as each bleeding morning fades into another smoke blackened midnight, as each howling dog in rusted chains seeps perfectly into the next and the next, as each face you meet dissolves into dust and shadow then is replaced by another ghost with missing eyes, as each lie is repeated until it becomes an ugly truth another part of my mind withers, another rough diamond in my spirit is pulverized into glittering atoms.

here at the compound we struggle mightily with our mortality, with that of others close to us. we wrestle with the equation of time versus meaning and how these factors interact with and intersect the strange realms of politics and men diseased with power, with money, with animal desires. we weigh the value of art, of creation with the battle for the soul in the world of ordinary human affairs. we are curious if any effort in any direction can ever be called worthwhile when held up against the real fight for What's Right. I mean, wringing poems from an old filthy typewriter while the red wine is poured and the smoke is thick and the broken windows keep the heavy darkness at bay for a while, this is a fine life, a good life.

but could this life be possible in pre-Hitler Germany? could one sit by and write poems in a cocoon of uneasy comfort while the war drums thundered in the distance? how can it matter, these small words of illumination, when the tumor has grown maligniant and obvious below the surface of the skin? when the tanks are massing and the Memory Hole is burning hot? when we cannot even look into the mirror for desperate fear of what we are certain to find in its crystal depths?

we struggle with this, here at the compound. but we write on in the face of it. we keep our eyes narrowed to peering slits and finger the cold steel of the revolver. we are ready to fight but we are thinking about curling lines of mysterious poetry.

dangerous times for art. and all of us.


Blogger Partisanpoet said...

and write we must but, can we write about anything else? Are poems about beauty without truth complicity? We write in fear in the shadows but our words must be sparks to illuminate our reality; to ignite the conflagration of our collective anger. They must shine against the dark juggernaut illuminating a way forward, even against the odds, even against sanity, even against the evens.

7:27 AM  
Blogger j.b said...

I understand your dilemma, Christopher. I understand it intimately. I, too, struggle with my own mortality, with the mortality of my loved ones; struggle with the point of it all.

Why? Why should we write; create; paint; sketch; compose? Why? What use is any of it when an unnamed comet is bearing down on us? What use is any of it when syphilitic madmen hooked on power are determined to annhilate us? What us is any of it when we're dead?

I hope your struggles don't keep you away from the typer for too long, because there is a reason for it: art is necessary for a civilization to know itself. Without art a civilization becomes schitzophrenic. Without art there is no culture.

Hang tough, brother.

9:50 AM  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...

both good comments. I suppose the real struggle here is where best to put my words? Ken Kesey said, "put your good where it will do the most," and I wonder sometimes if the poem is that place for me. I mean, certainly the poem has VAST importance to the human animal, certainly the poem is the GO TO art form in times of tragedy, in times of struggle, in times of loss and defeat. you can watch this action time and again throughout our history: the Challenger blows up, a poem is read to soothe the nation's spirit; a relative passes away and a poem lessens the blow by degrees; and etc.

and I myself have always maintained that "politics" as such makes for generally poor poetry, as it has much to do with real time situations that may not have the 'universality' of poems about the so-called human condition, if you will. I know, these are often conjoined and inseperable in many ways, but what I hope to derive from the poem is a deeper understanding of and ability to communicate with the absent mind of man.

I do agree with you j.b when you note that "art is nec. for a civilization to know itself." it is the window into the cultural whole, it is the best part of us left behind in tangible form for those who come after, it is essential for our self-awareness as humans. I also agree with you when you say "what use is any of it when we're dead..." this is the crux of my problem.

is it more important to use our sharp swords, our tight gunshot lines, to fight the battle that NO ONE SEEMS TO CARE ABOUT, or fight the battle that everyone cares about: the battle for a brief glimpse into the heart of the human mystery?

I mean shit, at a poker game the other night I queried some players about the "TIA" intrusion, about the eavesdropping and data mining, and ONE OUT OF TEN HAD EVEN HEARD ABOUT IT.

do I fight for the ideals that allow such oblivion to be acceptable? do I fight for my own idea of what freedom means? WHAT DOES FREEDOM MEAN? is it a freedom to write poems and drink wine and sing songs of doom and gloom into the crawling wind? and how best to defend that freedom? hell, the terrorists have won, the fascist have won, the neocons have won, the religious right have won if I DO NOT WRITE PAGAN POEMS AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT, if you don't write j.b, if you don't write, PP.

and in this sense, the quietly revolutionary act of creation in a world of destruction does just what you say, PP: "shine[s] against the dark juggernaut illuminating a way forward..."

thank you my friends for the strong words of support and reason.

2:30 PM  
Blogger j.b said...

it's a tough one. where would be the best place to concentrate your energies? i can't answer that one, brother, though i wish i could. i don't even know the answer for myself.

surely, there's reason enough to write poetry (and you enumerated many of these reasons) just as there's reason enough to not write and to yawp elegiac warnings across the roofs of these cities. it all depends on where your heart lies; and only you can answer this question.

for purely selfish reasons, i hope you choose to continue writing. i feel your voice and style and abilities are so unique and so powerful and so needed in this world of savages and monsters. maybe it won't matter one tit in the end, but i believe THAT doesn't matter because NOTHING will matter one tit in the end. after we die, there is nothing. so, whether we wasted our time writing little poems or tackling the big unanswerable questions of philosophy or wrestling with the demons of humanity; it all doesn't matter after we die.

therefore, do what makes you most happy. there's no second chance, brother, and if writing poetry ain't doing it for you, then by god yawp the elegiac warnings from the hilltops! bark the distress signals over the trees!

i agree with what you said:
"the terrorists have won, the fascist have won, the neocons have won, the religious right have won if I DO NOT WRITE PAGAN POEMS AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT". this is true. if the actions of another changes what one feels, does, enjoys, holds dear...then the other has won.

whatever you choose to do, don't let them win. whatever you choose to do, STAND UPRIGHT AGAINST THE SAVAGE HEAVENS!

2:46 PM  
Blogger Partisanpoet said...

The idea that "politics, as such makes for generally poor poetry" is a misconception promoted by acadame. A good treatise on this can be found at Pemmican. Yes poetry can "soothe the soul of a nation" but it can also awaken it and there are many examples throughout history.

Poetry speaks to the soul and to the experience of the reader in ways that philosophy and political diatribes cannot but it must be POETRY first. It must be honest and come from the heart, not a propagandist construct. It is an outlet for our own frustrations clearly distilled and the purest form of communication. Even if the kill us, the poetry will live on and continue to communicate.

I understand the difficulty however and struggle to write. Sometimes I wonder if I've said everthing there is for me to say and yes, sometimes I wonder what the point is. Nothing matters and everything matters, it's true. But, what else can I do? What else do we have but words, and if our talent lies in wordslinging, can we do otherwise?

You Christopher have a very special talent, and in my opinion, your strongest, juciest and most powerful work is in your prose-poems. Your letters and postings are fire -- the fire people are hungry for in this shallow comericially dead landscape. It feeds me and I'm grateful.

4:35 PM  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...

j.b., no question. the whole concept of 'happiness' is an elusive one in many ways. I sometimes wonder if the state of 'happiness' is something that isn't naturally occuring in humans, that the more accurate description of that condition is one of 'comfort' or 'rest' or 'satiety.' a moment of no struggle versus the rest of it.

surely this makes one 'happy,' but I also question at times the value of HAPPINESS as any sort of goal or end. now, I of course WANT to be HAPPY, or content, etc., but is this really possible? maybe in the short term, but more difficult, maybe impossible in the long term.

anyway, these are deep questions with no answers. a zen koan to clear the mind for the ingress of poetry I suppose. and thanks for the words of direction. I DO THINK that the poem for me is the path to such things as 'satisfaction' and 'peace of mind,' and there is no real question about 'do it or don't.' there is always the poem, always has been. in the end I think that the poem for me IS THE SAME THING as the "yawp" from the hilltops, is the same thing as the diatribe, the speech making, the barking cattle call, etc, when wielded in the proper hands. I believe that the metaphor is the best way to understand that which we can never fully understand.

and hell, poems do not exclude the writing of other things, I suppose, as long as the OTHER never dilutes the wonder, attentiveness, mystery, beauty and truth of the passing thru we experience before the final trip across the dark water.

it is true that after we pass, "none of it will matter" to us. we are finished, our time spent. it is what we leave behind to rot that matters. it is the world we tried to make for ourselves and those in our orbit. it is the bloody handprint on the dusty wall. it is the mark that says WE WERE HERE AND IT MATTERS.

the poem is the fight.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Partisanpoet said...

More one Politics & poetry here and I've posted a link to this converation on the commentary section of the Blue Collar Review.

Yes, we all need some happiness and peace of mind in this short life and I know much of what I write is not political. Life is many faceted. I enjoy good jazz, the complex and sensuous delight of absinthe, the companionship and love of my wife and sometimes I don't want to be bothered with the brutal banality of it all. But inevitably there is no excape. It shapes our lives and it colors our poetry. We must speak the truth on many levels including the political. The rest of our lives may depend on it.

4:54 PM  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...

PP, your words are dead on, and I agree that the political poem doesn't have to be a dull plodding academic excercise, indeed some of Edward's poems are fine examples of 'political' poem making that works for me. yes it MUST BE POETRY FIRST (a fine metaphor as well...)and as you know, I like to address the political in my work much more obliquely, from strange angles if you will. so I agree with you there for sure.

you are right: if our talent lies in "wordslinging" then we must load our typewriters and let fly. it is all we can do really. it is our answer to no question ever asked, and all of them.

and thanks for the kind words, I too hope the fire that burns me up inside will spread at least enough to hand the spark to the next maniac freak in the next dark room astride the next dusty typewriter screaming, ranting, singing.


5:04 PM  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...

PP, man, you said a mouthful there, espec. inre: jazz. that alone is reason to go on writing poems. shit, if MILES had said, "fuck it, it won't matter a goddamned bit" then MY LIFE WOULD BE GREATLY LESSENED. no SKETCHES OF SPAIN? jesus, the thought makes me insane. we MUST continue the lineage despite our own uncertainties.

the spaces between the notes: those are the moments that make the war bearable. the sound of the horn silhouetted against the blackness. "a red wheelbarrow in the rain."

there is no escape. it all IS. and it is all part of the living of a life: the poem and the firefight, the note and the gunshot.

5:13 PM  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...

PP, a great link to Ms. Rich. this quote is great:

"In the culturally stunned, dystopic states of North America a poet needs a different (though no greater) kind of faith and commitment from that of poets under other cruel and t/ruthless political regimes. Faith in poetry itself, more perhaps than has been required in other, older societies. Commitment to a poetics not defined by the market, not complacent courtier verse or prose cut by template. A poetics of longing, of organic necessity."

very true. we must have the idiot zealous belief of the lunatic
fundamentalists that what we do has meaning FOR OURSELVES. all else is delicious gravy.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Partisanpoet said...

If you can find it, get "Buffalo Head Solos" by Tim Seibles - Universiy of Cleveland Press. The intro alone is worth it and says it all quite well.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Lyle Daggett said...

Great discussion here, your post and all the comments. Thanks also to Partisan Poet for including the links to the articles by Bob Edwards and Adrienne Rich.

In one of those public T.V. series on poetry hosted by Bill Moyers a few years back, Moyers asked poet Michael S. Harper "What's the job of the poet?" Harper thought for a moment, and then said, "The job of the poet is to tell the truth, no matter what."

This is generally what it comes down to for me. Just speaking up, just writing poems, just sounding my voice, may not be enough by itself to effect a perceptible change in the world. But to remain silent is, ultimately, an act of complicity with the political and economic forces that would destroy all life on earth in order to increase their own profit and comfort.

Writing a poem is not the same thing, obviously, as walking in a picket line, or building barricades, or similar actions. When there's snow on the sidewalk, we shovel the snow; when the dishes are dirty, we wash the dishes. But in the long and vital struggle for revolution, we're not just trying to build a world that will allow us to shovel snow and wash dishes; we want a world where we will have room, and time, and passion, to write poems, to paint, to dance, to do the things that give value and flavor to life.

And we write poems now as an act of preservation of our humanity in the face of the horrors of the world (not nameless forces, but actions by wealthy and powerful people) that threaten to take away our humanity. Truth and beauty need not be separate, or in contradiction to each other.

In case you care to check it out, an article of mine on Political Poetry is posted online, here.

6:26 PM  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...

great comment lyle. many good points, espec.:

"And we write poems now as an act of preservation of our humanity in the face of the horrors of the world (not nameless forces, but actions by wealthy and powerful people) that threaten to take away our humanity."

indeed. these are all people who have a myraid of interests converging in a singularity that sucks reason, honesty, beauty, truth, art, poetry, humanity, genuine communication, etc. into the black hole that unchecked avarice and a demented drive for power have created. and the only force that resists such a violence, such a rending of the cultural space time continum, is a DEDICATED and CONCENTRATED effort at SELF EXPRESSION. a loud utterance of REFUSAL TO SUBMIT.

surely, a world where washing dishes and shoveling snow are a quiet exertion providing moments of reflection upon the poetry of our lives is worth the confusion and misery of The Fight.

ideals worthy of revolution, however solitary, however futile, however miraculous, however fleeting.

some spark, some shard, some fragment will remain in the dust, glinting in the fading sunlight for someone to find.

worthwhile. one mind at a time.

6:41 PM  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...

and a fine article, lyle. everything is political as it is all a part of life. all part of the same grand struggle to BE OURSELVES as we are.

6:44 PM  
Blogger j.b said...

this was probably the best, most enlightening, most touching hour i've spent in my life.

if only to know that there are others out there struggling with the same damn things i continually and daily struggle with.

i like the sentiment lyle pointed out, too, that everything is political because it ultimately has to do with survival.

beauty in the face of such ugliness.

9:05 PM  
Blogger christopher cunningham said...


it is heartening to know that some midnight misery on my part spawned such enlightening, in-depth discussion.

thanks to all who spoke up.

10:08 PM  

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