Driving home today after emailing with another poet about romantic interests, being alone, relating to people, etc., I got to thinking about the strange impulse that causes people to have intellectually-charged discussions and then moves them to rub their bodies together.
Yes, I know, that might be a slightly-debased way of describing the sex act, but I’m sort of considering it from an alien’s perspective. Alien #1 looks down upon two people chatting at a picnic table or in a restaurant, not really understanding the words exchanged, and then follows those two folks to a bedroom (or other likely place) only to observe much rubbing together, now in a prone position, which might look a bit like praying mantises caught in the act look to us.
Jump back to a night or two ago when said poet and I were previously discussing poetry writing versus being able to talk about poetry and its functions or purposes in the world. We both agreed, I think, that one endeavor does not require the other. I mean, you can discuss poetics until you’re blue in the face and be very astute at verbal proclamations, but that doesn’t mean you can write poetry well. You can also be very good at writing poetry but not have the first notion of how to describe what it is you’re doing or where you place your poetic intent on the world’s platter of poetry.
Again, boiling the matter down to some very basic, common terms, poetry, at a certain point, is guided by that deeper well within each of us that relies on impulse or emotions or even our hearts – however you prefer to refer to the instinct that guides beyond the intellect, and even moreover, guides the intellect.
This is not to say that the intellect is divorced from or does not inform that instinct, but instead, that the instinct itself is not acknowledged and trusted enough. In my experience, schools do not usually teach us to find and trust that “feeling” or even how to recognize it. Little aphorisms tell us it’s there, “Trust your gut,” but how do we workshop our way to enhancing or tapping into it? Automatic writing (i.e. “freewrites”) offers one method for getting students to let go of sense-making and tap into those mysterious reserves where their guts might lead them. But that’s only a beginning, I believe. It takes lots of training to get beyond the muck of a conditioned state of self censorship that would have us intellectualize every penned adventure so that we may promptly answer “Why did you write that?” or “What was your purpose?”
Alien #2 watches two students carry on a conversation at the Student Union over some fries. They are discussing the purposes of poetry. Alien #2 understands this exchange since Alien #1 turned on the translation machine, and hence, morphed into Alien #2. Alien #2 is intrigued by this discussion and leans in closer, taking notes.
Later, Alien #2 follows Student #1 home and observes her luxuriate in a bowl of fresh pesto pasta (the basil was just cut that day from the student’s own garden) accompanied by a full-bodied glass of Chianti, a gift bottle which makes it go down that much better. Now with dishes pushed aside, the student picks up a pen and lets loose on her page. Knowing she can return later to edit for purpose or make more conventional sense, the student writes with minimal thinking, bearing out a kind of music, plunging in and out of the crests her head opens into, wherever the weather of her mind’s ocean carries. Alien #2 leans in, follows along, and forgoes the note taking.
You see, Alien #2 remembered the initial conversation between the two people at the picnic table above that required willful cerebral engagement but later led to a far more visceral, possibly intellectually-guided, bodily discourse (i.e. the rubbing). Alien #2 then drew a loose parallel between that conversation and the ensuing sex and compared the two to discussing poetics as a prelude to writing poetry.
Alien #2 concluded that sex can be inspired by many not-so-apparent contributing factors that aren’t easily detected and noted, and while poetic discourse might motivate or even provoke (just as dining well might), it is not the main impulse or guiding force for most people when it comes down to rubbing together and writing the kind of poetry that sparks.
Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is co-editing with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edited the anthology Bettering American Poetry 2015 and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.