Sometimes I am afraid to let a poem out into the blank stare of a white page. What would happen to it? Would it struggle into its becoming? Would it come out prematurely? Would it still be intact, beginning to end, to beginning? Once a poem came to me in a form I did not recognize; it filled my mind with images, and phrases, barely decipherable to my awakened conscience. It was eager to come out. At night, when the world was dark and quiet, it screamed a quiet scream, the type of calling one can hear without the noise of the spoken word. It was eager to come out, and I to let it out from the wilderness it was birthed into.
But poems are not born to be constrained within the limited corners of the white page; and sometimes I forget that. I forget that, once they are released from their wilderness, they come undone; they become mere words, lines shaped into letters for words for phrases for imageries and metaphors, they stop being and become beings instead. Beings to be loved and fed, of course, but beings nonetheless. They are sparse in the page, the white space occupying so much of their power, the silent moments in between; even a thoughtful semi-colon does not do justice to the precision of the pause needed at that specific line, and the stanza breaks become monotonous in their procession.
Finish reading one line, and your eyes must follow the next line, and so on. And the poem must continue, until something in it makes sense, to anyone, or anything, until it has created and appropriately satisfied a possible audience, until it is dutifully drained of most of its original form. What do you say to such a poem? Do you apologize to it? Do you let it grow old within trimmed pages? Do you let it maintain its prosaic nature, and cut it into lines and stanza breaks to adhere to a more conventional shape? Or do you simply spit it out into white space, as you have heard it so many times before in the quietness of your own un-awakened mind? But what if the poem does not lend itself to your conscious mind, and its line arrangements and even punctuation do not make sense at all?
But what if the poem does not lend itself to your conscious mind, and its line arrangements and even punctuation do not make sense at all?
Sometimes it’s disregarded as terrible, or unfinished, and other times it’s simply disregarded. Imagine the life of the poem before this tangible world; it did not know it could be disregarded! How terrible. The un-awakened mind is not often aware of the future of the poem, nor does it care. The job is to let something out, make something out of nothing. Think of all the things, things that inspire us to write poetry; not why we write, but how. A stanza stems from the simplistic words of a friend, the sky lends itself to bruised images way too often, somebody died and they didn’t know it. Any way we get inspired, something in the mind clicks, a sort of harmony is created at that specific moment, and what was before a vaguely contorted idea now take shape under our tutelage. It is birthed without fear and does not know about failure. There is no such thing as a failed poem, as the fact that is was transported from the inner self to the worldly is testimony for its success.
A poem does not fail; but the poet does. In worst cases, the poet fails her own poem. By neglecting its original form, by prioritizing its shape to its message, and most of all, a poet fails by not recognizing the poem at all. That’s when the poem really becomes undone.
At times, the poem does not wish to be manifested in words at all; instead it desires to stay in the mind, linger between unhinged thoughts to savor rare moments in which you realize there is something there, yes! But how un-nurtured it must be in its primal form. Think about the free form of poetry; it allows the poem to manifest itself on the whiteness of the page, arranged in lines only according to the poem’s needs and it gives no fair warning to what’s to become of it. It is neither gentle nor aggressive, it does not bow, nor does it stop being incessant. Merely being liberated from the agonies of the un-awakened mind gives it a temporary glow – one the poet could not survive without – but the liberation comes in the form of a fall. The poem is defined; from the blob of idea that it was, to a phrase or the hint of a word never spoken like that before, to blotches one can see with the naked eye. It becomes a poem in its strictest definition.
Consider any free form poetry for instance; it does not fail the movement it follows on the page. It might ignore the conventional capitalization, or expected breaking of lines and stanzas, or suppress punctuation altogether. Consider how it must recognize all lines and stanzas – all conventional elements associated with more traditional poetry (metric, rigid, strict rhyming scheme or repetition). Once recognized the elements, it chooses to ignore them, or to go against them at best. Unlike in the free spirited world of the unconscious mind, where it once inhabited, as soon as it comes to the written form, it allows itself to become conscious -much like its agonized poet – and with consciousness comes responsibility. Responsibility to be shaped according to the criteria that were already preset by others. Think about traditional poets and their poetry; Shakespeare and his sonnets, Dante and his terzine, Whitman and his common-man theme. They are considered traditional now because they did not follow the current trend of free-falling poetry. But consider how innovative these poets were in their own time; Shakespeare embedded treasures to be discovered after the volta of his sonnets, Dante invented a language to fit his poetic needs (and not the other way around), and Whitman galloped into a subject that was never even considered poetic and made it his own. So what did we do with these and many other poets?
We called them traditional, and though they are the foundation for our aspirations and admirations for poetry, we thrive to differ from them, to break away from their tradition in order to write free-form poetry.