Sunday 17 December 2006
The poem as testimony. Yannis Ritsos sees the poem as a testimony to the world, the experience of the poet, the struggle to understand. Yannis Ritsos is Greece’s most widely translated poet. He has written 93 books of poetry. On top of these there are 9 books of fiction and 11 translations. He spent 12 years in exile and prison. He was an actor, a dancer and composer. He won every possible award outside of the Nobel.
Consider Ritsos' poem “The Third One.” Ritsos offers two kinds of people, those who speak and those who listen. Seers and hearers. And then, to these he adds the third ones , engrossed in the world, deep in the working world. These are the poets , so deeply involved in the world that it takes all their time and energy to live it. The third ones care only to engage in the world and transcribe it to those on the surface. Great poetry is an articulation of a life fully lived. It is not the story of life, but life itself. “The three of them sat before the window looking at the sea. / One talked about the sea. The second listened. The third / neither spoke nor listened; he was deep in the sea; he floated.” The poet is willing to drown for this kind of contact.
Barbara and Larry came back after months away. They came bearing ideas for "poetry instigations" at the lake. Words on t-shirts on groups of people in a meadow such as this, with something or someone directing them, moving them into new meanings, perhaps an algorithm. Magnetic poetry with live humans as the tiles. I tell them it has been done with cows. Nathan Banks painted words on the sides of 60 cows in a field and photgraphed them as they moved about making phrases. It has been done with sheep as well. Oversized magnetic poetry has also been done. My brother called to tell me about his experience with it in Harvard Square this year. But it has not been done here a the lake. It has not been done with live humans here. Whatever you want, I will support it. Plan it and I will assist.
Barbara raised an idea to market and sell poetry, to take poetry to the public sector. She suggested selling statistics about renowned poets in a pack of cards in the candy aisle. Larry pointed out that while this might work with baseball, it wouldn't work with poetry. “People actually care about baseball players,” he explained. After a pause, he added, “but we’re going to change all of that.” Barbara and I relaxed our gazes.
I entertained a visitor then who admitted to me that, “Poetry and me have a disconnect.” I read a poem to her. I read Glyn Maxwell’s “Stargazing,” to which she replied, “Now that I like. That's got a narrative quality. I can see about that kind of poem.”
The cold is amuck underfoot. Seeping up through my feet. I have received no calls of pardon. The day of poetry goes on. It is 4:18pm. Cold feet and legs, tense muscles from standing all day. Need to bend and wiggle from time to time, to keep from getting stiff. I’m in a muck pool. The grass around my desk has been tamped down, my cuffs are muddied 8” up from my heels. Need more serious shoes on a day like this, hiking boots. What did the prisoners at the work camps do on the Siberian front when forced to stand and work in the wet weather? They succumbed. They weakened. They grew ill. The exposure took its toll.
And now, the light is taking its primitive stance, silhouetting the landscape, cutting us off, allowing us into the spaces between objects. And now the noises of the world are surging up and I can hear the whisper and chatter of runners, their sniffles, the gravel underfoot, the dogs’ tags, the motors trailing off. There is no wind. The lake and the sky are spreading peach shapes against one another. The ducks have moved away. The squirrels are silent in their trees. A long engine purrs. And now an aggravated quack from a farther shore. Toenails from a dog on the pavement. A circle of coots out on the lake.