Poesy And The Inner Library Hear the myriad voices, listen selectively
By James Strecker
I now sense that my inner library books are checking me out past the due date.
A poem happened to me last week as I watched Mocean Dance, a quartet of modern dancers from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
By the end of the 40-minute show, and an hour of revision after, the three stanzas that follow this article seemed gawky here and there, but mostly ready for a pre-birth edit.
As with the process of writing, I know that this ensuing fine-tuning of the poem involves, among other influences, some impact on me of potent books I've read, books that ended up colouring my take on life.
Although I'm never quite clear exactly what this influence is -- not even certain how, today, I would respond to them -- I still have to deal with these books in some way as I live (and breathe) and write.
When I first read them, they sang to me in the choral realm of thinking and feeling. They changed me a bit, they made me do things, including write poetry, differently.
Sure, we all have this experience. Books, like seeds, are added to the chemical configuration we call our cognition, our consciousness, our manner of being, and what sprouts from it, in turn, often surprises.
So, for the purpose of this column, let's coin an annoying term, one that might have earned a publishing contract in New York 20 years ago, and call these books one's "inner library." New Age types, please applaud; all others may wince, as I do when I type it.
Looking back, I see that I felt, on first reading, that parts of these books now in my inner library understood something I needed to know.
I now sense that my inner library books are checking me out. They're like headstrong personalities who keep me out way past the due date and rack up a whopping fine, with no intention of paying it.
Here, with some of what they imply for me, as a writer, are some of those beatific bound buddies:
In Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese sage Lao Tsu's "work without doing (is) understood by very few" says don't perform, don't intend, don't submit to extraneous and intrusive motives. Get out of your own way and out of the poem's way.
In Zen Buddhism, Daisetsu Suzuki, who brought Zen to North America, emotes, "The most logical and most natural thing to do in relation to the mind would be to let it go on with its creating and illuminating."
So, while skilled in technique, the poet must truly let imagination do its thing and still work out the relationship betweem brinkmanship and spirit.
In Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, Norman Malcolm reveals the influential Veinnese philosopher as "revolted" by the lectures he himself gave and "disgusted with what he had said and with himself."
So although a poet finds that few people can understand the constant fanaticism about getting it right, he or she must stay fanatical just the same.
And the list goes on. French darling of existentialism Jean-Paul Sartre's Being And Nothingness for its distinction between pour-soi and en-soi which urges the poet to respect the inherent individuality and value of a creation.
Or American culture vulture Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media, which compels the poet to consider the unique dynamics and actual effect of each medium in which he or she functions.
Or any books by New York depth psychologist Ira Progoff, especially At A Journal Workshop, which invariably shows process of development as equally crucial to a poet as the finished poem.
You can't publish your process but you can't grow as a writer without a gradual deepening of consciousness.
In the end, these books and many others will look over my shoulder during the final editing of my poem Mocean Dance. Being serious about writing, I will listen to them.
Being human, I will select carefully what I hear.
After all, Zen Buddhism also reminds that words are self-perpetuating traps involving language and not about reality. In that case, one might as well shut up and not write at all.
So, today it can be Suzuki's silence or Wittgenstein's fanaticism about getting it right. Today, for now, I choose the latter.
James Strecker is the author or editor of two dozen books and CD-ROMs. His collaborators as a poet include artist Harold Town, in the books Black on jazz and Pas De Vingt on ballet, photographer Bill Smith, and composers Barend Schipper and Wolfgang Bottenberg. He is also a journalist and a human development consultant. He is currently writing a book on creativity and is seeking a publisher for his book for writers. http://www.jamesstrecker.com/js.htm email: firstname.lastname@example.org