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Poetics IV

"Poetry is the “advance party” of consciousness, clearing the forest later to be occupied by culture and consciousness, culture and person, culture and soul." -- Steve Goldman

POETRY by Steve Goldman


Poetry is energized language, and that is all that it is.  No one style of language is required of nor forbidden to it.


Its intent, function and effect, its very voice – may be literal or evocative, or both.


No subject matter is required nor forbidden to it, including the political, but it may not be merely tract or doctrine. A “poem” which is merely doctrine is disposable; it is anyway, save as it evokes the mythic.


In poetry words and language are used in a way not used elsewhere, notwithstanding debased forms of advertising and demagogic oratory.  Here, words don’t communicate so much as trick the addressee, or consumer, listener or reader into another state of being.


It is not a function of the rational or logistical intelligence, and though the craft of its perfection may be, its source is not.  It comes from God, the unconscious, inspiration, synaptic atavism or whatever, and perhaps thought, but not thinking.  It swells from underneath and soars above the didactic. It is pre-rational.


Poetry arises from the confrontation of the nakedness of the poet with existence or Being-Itself.


It is addressed to the living heart of the people: to Life.


It is the “nervous system” of culture, the antenna of consciousness in culture, and poets are the “unacknowledged legislators of society.”  It is oracular, vatic.  It makes non-empirical syntheses which are indispensable to life, or oracular guesses not otherwise available.


Poetry is the “advance party” of consciousness, clearing the forest later to be occupied by culture and consciousness, culture and person, culture and soul.


It is the explorer of and maker of sensibility – the epistemology of an age.


It takes its own time to develop, in the individual and in culture.


Poetry is the activity of “the commando or irregular soldier, - the special warfare operative”.  You must improvise your “weapon” out of whatever language and experience you can access and handle.


 How to write a poem: render the thought, sentiment, idea, glimmer of spark, urge to communion or whatever in the language it was born in.


Doctors, lawyers, farmers and engineers make life possible.  Poets make it bearable.


The poem must have form OF SOME KIND OR ANOTHER.  The Human Other, reader or listener, can understand only form, not the private experience of the poet. Form alone is exportable by itself.  Form alone is the carrier of feeling, sentiment, meaning, innuendo, vision, content, prophecy, declaration of love, or whatever.


The poem is only the marks on the paper or the sounds in your ears or mouth.  It hopes to render  the poem behind the poem  -  the one not rendered or renderable in words: the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” – the numinous, the shimmering silence, - which is one with the received inner vibration of myth.


Poetry is not interesting observations, cleverly or catchily expressed.  It is MAGICAL HOMILETICS, for person, tribe, race, for all Being, - for the future, - cryptically transmitted as mystery-beyond-mind.  The poet is seer, SEE-ER.


Everyone sees through a glass darkly, and not necessarily the same one.  Poetry goes from behind the face of my dark mirror toward the face of yours.


There are no “women poets,” nor for that matter “men poets.” It may well be that one writes best from one’s own experience, and sexuality is perhaps primary and probably differential.  But though poets are both men and women, and there are women-who-are-poets and men-who-are-poets, there are no “men” or “women” poets.


Somehow, poetry comes through the artist, not from her, - like air through a flute, - disturbing nothing.


As language itself is metaphor, and the thing in itself  as it is cannot be directly revealed by it; only poetry and song, while figurative in nature, are non-metaphorical, are directly real.


The poem is the signpost of and stimulus to the evolution of the spirit, or toward the City of God, if you like.


Anything that can be said or written is a lie, poetry and song exempt.


All poetry is celebration or complaint.  Poetry praises or condemns.


Finally, though stern Plato condemned it as hybrid, poetry is philosophy as music.


As with any manifesto, this too is disposable in the face of the void.


Poetry as Artform


(The following comments came from Joseph Farley, poet and editor of the Axe Factory Review, out of Philadelphia, PA.  He is responding to a letter I wrote him in April [2000] regarding the nature of the POEM:  “As regards the ‘finished vs. unfinished’ issue... I agree, a poem is in an evolving state.  Each new version of the original idea is an evolution of the previous ones.  However, as an editor, you must also recognize that, at some point, you must draw the line, if for no other reason than for publication’s sake.  Thematically, one can carry an idea forward through many incarnations of a poem... I’m currently working on several ‘themes’: Things I Notice (4 so far) & the Lucid Thought series.  But you are talking about a more transcendent idea I suspect: poem as fluid statement, poem as process.  Is that correct?


If each draft constitutes a new poem, should each new poem not be re-titled?”)


Joe responds:


Let’s get metaphysical.  The ideal poem exists inside and outside the mind.  The mind somehow receives it like grace or nirvana.  Then comes the translation into language.  This is a process that many poems cannot weather.  But some do.  We hear the poem.  We see the poem on a page.  The purpose is to spark the mind/spirit/soul of another being to get in touch, if only momentarily, with the ideal poem that exists outside, elsewhere, timeless.  Or, from another view, the core of being of the poet – the essence – is hidden behind so much life, experience, societal trappings of culture & family, it is only glimpsed by the poet on occasion & the poet cannot help but wonder at the beauty/ugliness of the self and its place in the cosmos.  Again – ideal must be translated into the poor vessel of language (sex sometimes expresses a feeling better, music and violence can be more immediate).  I’m alive!  I won’t be forever, so see me now as I am, a voice in the wilderness and loving it!


As for the poem evolving... Yes, you will see poets giving back to creation themes, images.  In a sense, the same poem is written over & over.  Whitman rewrote.  He wasn’t alone.  As for titles, different titles may make it easier for an editor or a reader, but should not bother the poet.  As a compromise – one could number or date versions.  Poem X, #1, Poem X, #2.


Poetry has three stages: inspiration, translation, and final product (which may or may not get published).  The first two stages can be viewed as a spiritual journey.  As self exploration, self development.  The final stage is not as important as the process itself.  But, reality-wise, poets tend to want to be published – so – final stage must have some meat on the bone.  Publication also require knowing, understanding & dealing with editors & their specific needs, etc.


Joseph Farley



Steve Goldman has been contributing to L.A. Poetry for as long as I can remember.  He brings a unique & prosaic style to the otherwise bleak & oftentimes sophomoric poetry of the streets of LA.  He currently co-edits an online zine called Abalone Moon.
Joe Farley edits & publishes the Axe Factory Review. 

ADDENDA - The Goldman essay appeared in Lummox in 2002, while the Farley piece appeared in 2000.

Exploring the Creative Process since 1996