Although our April CWC Meeting was cancelled due to COVID-19 North Carolina Stay At Home Order, Diana Pinckney sent us a video of her presentation from her home. Thank you Diana!
Video of Diana Pinckney's inspirational words about poetry
The Tiger in The Poem
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 out eyes as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.
--Chez Milosz, from Ars Poetica
The above quote says to me that the tiger we release when we write is the mystery and wonder of writing. The unexpected, out of the dark jungle of our hearts and minds, sprung from the depth of our being—” the constellation of the unconscious” as a great poet, Stanley Kunitz, said when speaking of what happens when we go deeper. It’s work and it’s scary, just as the blank page is scary. But as writers that is our goal—to meet up with a tiger and see what imaginative paths he may lead us down. The poet Carl Phillips calls it the “act of daring.” Theodore Roethke said “Poetry is an act of mischief.”
We can examine the surprises, and use the tools of revision that help us write our way to the heart of a poem. We find our voices in first drafts, in overwriting, in exploring our thoughts through writing them down, exploring our emotions, our own recurring images. If we trust these images, they may take us to mystery and beauty never imagined.
We also need to listen to the voices in our heads, the voices all around us. Sounds are a major element of poems. We read with our ears when poems are in front of us on the page or the screen. Robert Frost maintained that an appetite for sounds is the first qualification for a writer. Other challenges and pleasures can come from experimenting with how the poem looks on the page—crafting with both formal and free verse patterns.
In revision, what is held back may enable us to give more – to ourselves and our readers – the poem behind the poem or as prose writers might put it, the story behind the story. All this while trusting the struggle to make our poems better than ourselves – not smarter, better. Believe me, I have no illusions about the impact of poetry in this world. As William Carlos Williams so famously said:
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
From Asphodel, That Greeny Flower
Yet, after terrible disasters like 9/11, poems were pinned all over the fencing around the craters where the towers came down. More recently poems were put up in Paris near Notre Dame Cathedral after that tragic fire. And now we, and most of the world are in the turmoil of dealing, in the best ways we know how, with combating and trying to stay safe during the COVID—19 virus crisis. In times like the present, I think of what Martin Luther King said, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” So why not poetry? Let the tiger in us as writers be the strength to reach out to each other, to make poetry a major consolation in times of isolation. We are writers. Let’s write letters. Let’s use the technological tools we have to send poems and connect with friends, family and each other. And let’s be confident we will gather and meet again in the not too distant future. I want to end with some beautiful words from the late poet, novelist and Nobel Prize winner, the beautiful Toni Morrison.
There is no time for despair,
no place for self-pity,
no need for silence,
no room for fear,
We speak, we write, we do language.
That is how civilizations heal.