STATEMENT FOR THE MODERN POETRY CONFERENCE AT CUNY
I suppose poetry is
Listening Out Loud
And what one listens to is language --
language in one's head
(only a fool would confuse that with himself thinking
only a fool would think the things that he hears languaging in him
are things that he himself is thinking)
Most poets are too smart to believe in their own intelligence.
Witless, clueless, we await a sign.
Pindar tells us a sign is never clear (at least a sign from Zeus) --
hence the poem veers towards a kind of
[Eventually after a few hundred or thousand years we begin to comprehend the incomprehensible -- Dante, Aeschylus, Milton
-- and they become classics and become of great celebrity but diminished use. But till then the texts are of great power,
startling, provoking, eliciting. Some grand provokers -- Pindar himself, Li shang-yin, Lycophron, Hoelderlin, Stein -- still
wait their turn, still turn us towards the poem we must write, the poem they force us to write, to make sense of what they
do to our heads.]
The incomprehensible provokes the reader to acts of preternatural awareness.
This incomprehensibility factor is what the ancient Greeks called Mousa, Muse. [The Spartans -- sturdy workmen, who would
have liked the sacred gizmos of Elshtain's gnoetry -- called her Moha.] (I told her I would work her into this evening.)
The incomprehensible is the only thing that makes sense. That is, it creates sense -- the sense of something happening
to you as you read.
And that's the only happening poetry has?
The luster of listening.
Or what we hear in poetry is groans from the battlefield where time struggles against space.