The management of consciousness is what it means to be human altogether. When considering poetry, this is the angle of approach that I take: how is the poet managing his consciousness and how is the reader or hearer’s consciousness affected? Mrs. Othus, our grade school library teacher who wore a ugly wig but somehow had a husband who was rumored to love her very much, told us our brains were like a field and that thinking wore paths across it where the feet went to and fro.
Many years later when I attended college, the school wanted to pave the muddiest of their campus paths. There were already paved paths where the students were supposed to go, but they were goat-footed and would not stay on the pre-existing sidewalks. So the administration simply waited until mud or snow made the student paths obvious and then paved those. They didn’t like mud.
Poets go on both kinds of paths but there is a kind that tries always to walk on grass, stone, air, to wade in the waterways, to swing from the trees. Their consciousness wants something new because that’s often where the power is. And they discover that the forbidden is the most powerful poetry of all, whether it is religious taboo, fenced propriety, or simply deadly.
If one lives a forbidden life, let’s say on a beach somewhere remote, or squatting in a ruined building (there are so many now, esp. in Detroit), or a small town where everyone knows what’s happening and no one wants to rock the boat so they are silent, then true poetry will reflect that. But who will read it? How does one get the writing to the reader or listener? Today we know an answer is electronics, but that does not solve the problem.
Mrs. Othus was a liberal who believed in protocol: “This is how to take a book off the shelf,” she taught us. “Slip your fingers in between books -- do not pull from the top of the back of the binding.” It’s like grabbing a poet by the back of his collar, though these days they tend to wear t-shirts and their books are all paperbacks, maybe hand-sewn. Mrs. Othus was a BBC type before there was television. She was strict, almost clerical. Some students hated her. She saw something in me and urged me to read “Pilgrim’s Progress,” so I did. It was the path to destruction, paved with good intentions. I had lots of those. Destruction turned out to simply be deconstruction.
In high school Mrs. Tyler was our teacher of American Literature. We read Whitman and she taught us to admire F.O. Matthiessen. The high school had a primrose festival in the spring but I never competed so never found the path. As an adult, I was friends with Mrs. Tyler, retired now, frail as a sparrow and all big eyes, so she bought tickets for theatre and I drove her car. We saw “Chorus Line,” and a ballet about being gay, which I only thought I understood but she really did. We didn’t talk about it. What would have happened if we had?
Now I walk direct across the prairie to the horizon and pass the piled or scattered bones of many ideas. I never take my books off the shelf by their backs because they stack up beside my chair.
I have friends who have lived obscene lives: Ob (outside) and scene (the stage defined by the pro-scenium) which divides the actors from the audience in the days when every play was a passionate attempt to make the gods stop punishing us, to discover our crimes, to offer sacrificial bribes. It was a search for justice.
The hydraulics of human bodies is managed by blood which is what supplies the fuel for everything -- including sex -- by providing the molecules of joy and relief, engorging the membranes, carrying the toxics left from former lovers. The poetry of “Genocide” is the tracing of these trajectories as they plummet through lives of nonconformists, escapees from both school and teachers. “Schooling” in some contexts is a painful forcing of obedience, using violence.
Education happens all the time on its own terms because it is the way that consciousness manages itself. It is the way brains grow through time, but one of the things a person learns is that looking over the shoulder does not kill Eurydice, but rather one’s younger self.
i am old
i want to die
my genocide visions are humble
even squalid i laugh
not bitterly but with
as honest as the stoic sun.
Those who dare adventures out there on the edge of the world where there are dragons, have not wasted their time, have not been “ordinary.” (Nothing is worse than being “ordinary.” Both Mrs. Othus and Mrs. Tyler knew that, but danger kept them quiet.)
sunrise somewhere off the venezuelan coast
our boat is old and it leaks
my latino lover this so-called revolutionary. . .
any books just books can get you shot
drug smugglers are fed to sharks in a place where
everyone smuggles something the revolutionaries here
are mainly children when all of your brothers are murdered
you become a revolutionary.
Recently this period in history has been keeping books on atrocity: how many killed, how much destroyed, where are they, what is their DNA, who claims them, where is the art that used to hang on their walls?
. . . i know slashing
twilight and I want an accounting
of what has been done
a full accounting of every small
insignificant horror because there
is nothing insignificant about
horror the books must be put in perfect
economic shape being mellow and all
There is only one respite, as these stories record.
are interludes the stage
the bed the mystery
you slept on my
Water seems to have no paths, but in truth they do. Differences in temperature, gradients of saline, deep variation in the terrain below the flow, and always the wind -- that metaphor for spirit -- taking one’s boat by its blushing sails.
Yin and Yang can be closer to each other than same to same.
. . . we
will never be retired from passion
my cats and I sit in rockers on the
front porch stoned my cats drink too
much rum we are so alike believing
that there has to be some deep enigmatic
significance to a collection of sea shells
gathered by boys drunk on sunset
. . . we are not retired from kisses
Don’t get too excited. It’s all metaphor. It’s all words. We’re merely managing our consciousnesses. We’re human beings.
(All poetry quotes from "Genocide" by Tim Barrus.)