Ars Poetica

Cynthia reading Ars Poetica

Whereas the longing for meaning
is basic – almost primordial –
to the feeling of well-being,
the widening gyres of mendacity
dower a writer her field of word-
seeds, ancient and regenerative.

Levertov, so reticent to heed
Duncan’s counsel “not to oppose
evil, but to imagine it,” chose
the actual over the cosmic, detail
and reckoning during the Vietnam
War leading to insight. One writes

“to get it through one’s thick
white middleclass skin
what is really going on.” A pro-
active thing to do when evil
bellows monster of a female
fact-delver of color is to write.

Think of channeling words
to counter hate with truth
as song, creating in the space
of the poem commerce2—I mean,
why not?—between myth and fact.
“Poetry,” Rich said, “has the capacity

to remind us of something we are
forbidden to say.” 3 Our white
silence condones the evils of racism,
misogyny, patriarchy’s violent grip
on power. I think it was Wm Carlos
Williams who said, “Imagination

depends upon the ability to take itself
literally.” I imagine evil, & write
to care,4 the word italicized because
an error, accidental discovery of a felt-
thought, erring into the actuality of
caring, writing to risk revelation.

“covert” 1

“error”

“leading”

“to”

“unimpeded”

“risk”

1  Words in the margin are a quotation from Kathleen Fraser, discussing “accidents” and “errors” as principles of invention in her poetics. The technique itself—words in the margin as parallel text—is one of her innovations as well.

2  Duncan spoke of the meeting of words in a poem as a longed-for communion. “Commerce” is from Whitman’s lexicon.

3  Adrienne Rich, from a defense of poetry published in The Guardian, 18 November, 2006. Slightly misquoted.

4  I intended to write something else, and was in the act of writing another word, but the unconscious disrupted my conscious train of thought with emotion. Derailed by happenstance into an embarrassment of feeling.

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