Poetry Proverbs

Kelly Shaw

I is another.
– Rimbaud

The poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully.
– Stevens

When we’re interested in creation, creation is interested in us.

Poetry enacts creation: a spark, lots of patience, and the patina of time.

In finding poetry, we find ourselves.

Poetry creates schools instead of prisons.

Books are doing badly in our affluent skitzoid world, and if books are doing badly, we are doing badly.

Poetry is a brunette driving a 1963 dark blue Pontiac Catalina convertible.

It’s Mother Theresa and Harry Houdini doing the tango.

It “apprehends more than cool reason ever comprehends.” (Shakespeare)

Poetry: where we’re utterly insignificant, and utterly significant.

Poetry is unreasonable, it’s also reasonable: it reminds us that we’re most aware when “I am not I.”

It’s strange, yet resonant: “Twentieth pupil of the centuries knows its stuff and bird-changed this century like Jesus climbs the sky.” – Apollinaire

What lasts: not the failed regime, but the four poems from the failed regime.

Being about two (inner and outer, Apollonian and Dionysian, sound and sight, story yet simultaneity, ancient and modern, rhythm and variation…), poetry should feel natural to us.

Where you get to dream while being awake: an opportunity to trust our unconscious.

It spells out new sweet perplexities of the sacred, is freely inclusive, unresisting in its inclusiveness, summoning new circumferences. (Revell / Dickinson)

It wants you to be you, but more so wants you to become something new.

It personalizes, therefore it redeems: it helps us see what exists and doesn’t exist.

It loves “quality time” and distains “lack of time”.

It reminds us of what we’re in danger of forgetting: beauty, surprise, splendor, mystery…

It supports both the most formidable collaborative endeavors (influence) and the most trying and liberating solo flights (writing).

It’s an opportunity to trust the implication of what you’re saying, even though you’re not absolutely sure of what it is that you’re saying, reaching a beyondness and depth. (Strand)

Poetry: where the old masters find us: because everything is for sale (except poetry), so we must create our own zones of justice.

It drives a stake into habit, understanding that we’re not fully at home in the world, though we pretend we are.

It triggers a syntactic re-evaluation process, shifts and opens up new pathways, stretching us, creating new combinations and networks; like the cry of “action” on a film-set, it changes our circuitry into a theatre of simultaneous possibilities.

It trains the ears, eyes, tongue, nerves, taste buds, soul and brain.

It feels good to leap into the conscious presence of uncertainty, and if not better to leap into the context of radical indeterminacy.

Poetry “adds to life a new fact which is both a recognition of disaster and a cure for thinking it all there is…leaving us not in despair but in possession of a means for confronting what would otherwise have killed us behind our backs.” (Gilman)

Who doesn’t need an elaborate discipline of paying attention, and a site of concentration where beauty is created?

“’Poetry is dead!’ someone shouts happily every now and then, to the relief of parents. And because in a country that now regards money as the highest good, doing something for the love of it is not just odd, but downright perverse.” – Simic

It works with us to bring new life into the world: it offers us the sensation of giving birth, of creating something new that’s never been there before.

How can we really know what we’re thinking until we read, or moreover, write a poem?

It asks, “Where is poetry?” but also asks, “Where are you?”

It leaves us “in the fullest possible possession of your self while simultaneously providing the most intimate escape from self, as though the twisted double helixes of your secret code got some blessed breathing room from each other for a minute.” (Ryan)

It’s like learning another language, which is good for us.

It’s a balancing act, of which we can never get enough practice.

Poetry: producing things which, a little while earlier, no one had so much as dreamed: it frees us from the prison of contemporaneity.

It “shows the fly the way out of the fly-bottle,” (Wittgenstein) and directs us to look up (Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel).

You abhor boundaries? Good. Poetry does too. It’s less about being who we are, and more about becoming who we might be.

A place to apply hatred or self-hatred as fuel rather than suffocation.

Poetry is an experience, not a description of an experience.

Poetry laughs at power (when not crying over it).

It’s a monarch (of the clouds) turned democrat (bringing things on high down to earth). (Fassbinder / Torah).

It doesn’t say “sound and silence” but “the sound and the fury.”

It may not be much, but it’s everything: the “Thou” behind the “It.”

We begin to see, haltingly at first, that poets aren’t as much about whisky and cigarettes and crummy apartments and questionable jobs, as about relationship.

Poetry embraces failure, rearranges petri dishes for failure, to “fail better,” like MLK Jr, Simone Weil, Antigone…

It attends to us, listens, responds and confirms our existence: it doesn’t say “I” or “Not-I” but something in between, and both.

Most of what we hear is noise, or is it mostly music that we hear and tune out? (John Cage).

Like us, it’s its own worst enemy: it links the microcosm to the whole.

Poetry: making briefly visible the invisible.

If electricity hadn’t been discovered (developed) by Thomas Edison, someone else would have discovered it, but if Emily Dickinson hadn’t written her poems, no one would have.

It’s political: ask not, “What can poetry do for you?” but, “What can you do for poetry?”

Like life, it rarely lets us know in advance what we’re in for.

As yoga is meditation through movement of the body, making the muscles limber, poetry is meditation through movement of the mind, making the soul limber.

Poetry: “both faster than us (stimulating us to change when we least expect it), and slower than us (linking us to traditions in the past), different from the clocks that tick away in our own lives.” (Varnedoe)

It bends time and unfolds space: it’s a way of thinking.

Where we’re reminded that eternity preceded us, and that infinity will come after us.

Poetry: the permission to feel awful at times, without losing our natural delight in wit and humor.

It turns isolation into solitude: making obsession a blessing, rarely leaving one to search far for subject matter.

Poetry: the paradox of respect and challenge: chutzpah (I will add to the tradition) and abjection (I can’t possibly match them), humility and arrogance, navigating between too much reverence or too much audacity. (Winterson)

Poetry: in order to grow, one must be rooted in the earth: it’s rain falling down to impregnate the ground.

A new music is a new mind: in knowing it, we are known; in feeling it, we are felt.

It’s the electric exuberance of intrinsic validation (working outside of commodities).

To be the bet is better than placing bets: the stakes are not the same for the ironic spectator as for the would-be saint.

“What is most serious for art to get to [is] ecstasy, unity, freedom, completeness, dionysiac things.” – Koch

Poetry: connecting the childish eye to the Socratic heart.

Because in the pursuit of progress, we’re “losing it”: excelling in the outer and failing on the inner.

Because you like being mystified, coming into the possession of a mystery, especially when it’s encountered seductively.

Because poetry loves philandering with alternative futures and putting makeup on ugly parts of the past.

Because it doesn’t impose itself, but like a healthy parent, creates space for us to grow.

Because it’s better than math.

Because we’re a part of an intricate web of relationships which our neighborhood pharmaceutical corporation can’t explore.

Because we’re crazy and irrational; because we’re not crazy and irrational enough.

Because it asks us what would happen if we did the opposite of what we’re doing.

Because it doesn’t swap mortgages or sell junk bonds: it thrives not in the cubical, but in ecologies: because our lives are in danger of becoming half-lives, our experience flattened by too many right angles.

Because science doesn’t capture the beauty of Bach, the feel of Lincoln’s cadences, or the point of a joke.

Because few hands will reach out to you the way Keats’s hand does.

Because discipline breeds passion.

Because it’s impractical – prose is practical, conversation is practical – even “useless,” in our time of enforced “usefulness.”

Because what’s unattainable is valuable.

Because it’s the touch of two selves.

Because without poetry is the abyss, and “if you look into the abyss, the abyss will look at you right back.” (Nietzsche)

Because you revel in dramatizing the unfathomable, without giving convincing solutions.

Because creating openness and expanse is its central task.

Because a pain shared is a pain halved, and what we name, we tame.

Because poetry isn’t a gigantic, stealthy land-grab, requiring multiple-choice tests instead of encouraging students to read great books, thereby destroying individual thinking by forcing them to recite back the answers already provided. (“No Child Left Behind”)

Because our consciences are wiser than our culture.

Because we need something to bring us together other than political-economic power structures.

Because vulnerability is the birthplace of creation.

Because poetry hasn’t tripled world poverty in the last 25 years.

Because it’s liberating to be inhabited by something. “Ere I could make prologue to my brains, they had begun the play.” – Shakespeare

Because nature’s universal law of creation from destruction operates in mind as well as matter.

Because poetry is freeingly a-moral, tampering with truths which we take for granted: it’s always rearranging things.

Because you get to be an actor, musician and painter all at once.

Because the world needs more introverts: for a reflective and reinventive solitude, rather than a fretting solitude.

Because poetry can’t be bought (and in stores rarely is).

Because you love mixed tones: buffoonery mixed with regret, comic absurdity mixed with heartache, salvation that appears improbably out of despair; and you can’t stand sermonizing (like this!).

Because poetry is a great lover, loving you passionately and continuously.

Because the aim of poetry is to recreate fluency.