Wednesday, July 14, 2010

BILL MOHR'S ARS POETICA


ARS POETICA

I wasn’t on a path or near a creek or lake.
In the gray light of a smoldering storm,
I heard the rotted wood of toppled trees
wait for my noise to loosen incandescent spores.


Once, hurrying through the thicket of a mountain,
I saw a glowing tube of threads like a mashed globe
suspended, taut, creased with undulant shadows.
A tent caterpillar, a man explained as sparks


from a fire pit decanted. But that name
did not suffice: those syllables only blurred
the motionless reverence of the tiny span
the chrysalis allowed itself as galactic cusp.


The next day a monk talked of cycles
of evasive desire. As he spoke, I rubbed
the small tear in a padded finger
of the left hand of my motorcycle gloves.


I’d hit the pavement hard, but jutted
back up. No broken bones, no lacerations.
I’m easily distracted: not much chance
to escape the sticky wheel of suffering.


As he walked past, he smiled delightfully,
though not at me as such. He had no other blessing
to dispense. Yet he’d grown up poor, I thought,
those teeth needed work when he was young.
 

~ Bill Mohr  
                                   
[This poem was in a recent issue of POOL magazine. The monk is Thich Nhat Hahn.]

For more of Bill Mohr's work, please visit BillMohrpoet.com

**

Bill comments:

The image of the tent caterpillar in "Ars Poetica" came out of a camping trip in Colorado in 1976. The encounter with the monk was 15 years ago. Two incidents, almost twenty years apart, somehow flowed together.

Oriana:

At first I wanted to keep Bill’s explanation of how the poem came to be a secret, but now I see it needs to be presented as part of the whole wonder of it. It’s one of the perennial surprises of poetry, how things “somehow flow together,” even if separated in time and space. And after all, the poem’s title is Ars Poetica. For a poet, there is no escape from the sticky wheel of experience, since it’s the richness of unexpected details that gives a poem its life. I love all those unexpected details: the caterpillars’ tent as a universe, or at least a “galactic cusp” (a magnificent phrase); the tear in the glove; the monk smiling in an impersonal manner, detached from specifics, while the poet notices even the bad teeth that tell us the monk grew up in poverty. Talk about an unexpected detail – the holy man's bad teeth! It's not a disparaging comment; it's a line that again directs us to the real. I agree with Wallace Stevens that poetry is the "necessary angel of reality." 

In the image of a tent created by the tent caterpillars (not as spectacular as the one that Bill saw on his camping trip), note what seems like the tree's eye staring through the silky veil. 

Here is another image of the tent these caterpillars make -- again, it reminds me of a "galactic cusp." 


Hyacinth:

Delightful images and lines. I especially like "the sticky wheel of suffering" It will stay with me. 


Oriana:

"The sticky wheel of suffering" will stay with me too. The whole poem is delightful, but these lines definitely hit home:

I’m easily distracted: not much chance
to escape the sticky wheel of suffering.



And I especially like these stanzas where the narrative is interwoven with cosmic imagery:

Once, hurrying through the thicket of a mountain,
I saw a glowing tube of threads like a mashed globe
suspended, taut, creased with undulant shadows.
A tent caterpillar, a man explained as sparks


from a fire pit decanted. But that name
did not suffice: those syllables only blurred
the motionless reverence of the tiny span
the chrysalis allowed itself as galactic cusp.


~ Note also the wonderful rhythm, the fluent music of the poem.
 

*

Kate Harding:

I love your blog and I love this poem by Bill. Did you know him when you were in LA?
Besides being a wonderful poet he has written a very interesting manucscript about the poetry scene in Venice.

Your blog is a rich rich feast and it fills me up when I'm hungry and makes my cup run over when I'm full.



Oriana:


Thank you, Kate. I had the great good luck to know Bill Mohr when I attended workshops at Beyond Baroque. He was always stern yet supportive, so I can also add that he is a marvelous teacher. 


One think I love about Bill’s poem is that it never mentions poetry. It’s up to the reader to figure out how the observations on tent caterpillar and the Buddhist monk add up to ars poetica. Una Hynum does the same thing in her own ars poetica poem.


ARS POETICA

            We must risk delight.
                  ~ Jack Gilbert

Churning butter, I turn the handle
of the Mason jar until my arm
gets tired. I rest and crank again.
The unexpectedness

of what happens is like coming
upon an acre of wild daisies.
Out of thick, white cream,
clusters of yellow cling to beaters.

I pour off the whey, place
nuggets of butter on a plate,
pat and smooth, working out
the gray droplets. Finished,

I lower the dazzling mound
into the artesian coolness
of a well, careful not to break
the plate against the stone.

      ~ Una Hynum
            (published in A Year in INK)
**

Oriana:

Note these lines:


The unexpectedness

of what happens is like coming
upon an acre of wild daisies.
 
This is a wonderful statement about the creative process: the surprise. We discover more than we ever thought we knew. Often we make the cognitive leap, the connection, only when writing. Different areas of the brain are activated; something new emerges. It feels very rewarding (and extremely frustrating when the poem seems "more of the same," too expected; my nostalgia poems got to the point where I wasn't discovering anything anymore).

Sometimes the discover is more about the esthetics of the poem we are writing. We find the right form for it, or the right metaphor from which the rest follows. 


*

Brad McMurrey has also sent a comment in the form of a poem. Here is an excerpt:

POETRY

As though touching her might
make him known to himself . . .
                          ~ Li-Young Li, “Dwelling”
                                          
I was unfocused rain, twisted thunder, lost lightning
randomly stretching my hand to find a target.
I was unknown to myself when she arrived.
She seduced me with the promise of knowledge,
like the serpent in the first Garden, as though
touching her might make me known to myself.
She has seduced me into Eden.
Now I am known to myself.

**

Oriana:

In my case, the creative process seduces me with the promise of beauty rather than knowledge; but the knowledge (discovery) happens nevertheless, and is as important to me as beauty. Beautiful lines that don't say anything worth saying will be quickly forgotten: it's the marriage of beauty and insight that I crave, both as a reader and writer.



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