Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bigger Picture

This sense of the always already bigger picture is where the poems come from and should be in them from the get-go. It is an attempt to take the unthinking commodification common to today’s realpolitik and turn it back upon itself. There is a pari mutuel here, a risk between us that the reader will always be tempted to simply take the pictures as illustrations. The risk is allowed, though, in order to move us toward the chance of an open dimension that should come from the way that the pictures are chosen to tangentially bounce off something in the poem and from how they always already implicate something more from the bigger picture of our lives.
         In the borrowed picture that is part of the poem “Space (for Tenzin Gyatso),” we have a relatively simple image that can be discussed fruitfully along these lines. It is a highway sign with a schematic image of a sitting meditator on it. If you get those things, and that is not a totally given thing with today’s audiences, but if you do—then, there are those to things to bounce off of the poem together. I hope the poem in itself presents the concept of the “space” to be put into experience and thought by the praxis of shamatha/vipassana/zazen meditation. If we read the picture, we get something like we would get from the familiar orange diamond-shaped one with a curving arrow that tells us “Curve Ahead” without using words. “Meditation Ahead” might be what it says, then, or “Look Out: Meditator Ahead” maybe.
         So, why not just deliver it in words? If this is what it says in words, why not just say it? Arnheim’s famous old book on Visual Thinking gives scientific philosophical answers as to why not: he puts the reasons into terms of the spatial relations delivered in the visual. Reasons also could be given in terms of social relations presented by iconic visuals. That approach could also encompass Aristotle’s two other appeals to the audience: emotional and ethical “reasons.” These are not so easily put into language because of the sentimentalities and other reductive forces at work when one words them. It is the iconic quality of visuals that goes beyond Arnheim and works compactly from and with and on the social in a fashion that we feel and can feel in our ethical gut as critical.
         At the risk of belaboring explanation yet further, something I used to hate seeing done to a poem by my professors, I’ll go on here with the picture in “Space.” It speaks in the idiom of driving. What’s important about that is the way that the domain of driving reflects many of the urges of our current social relations: speed, teleological efficiency, management (to drive in Spanish is manejar), and numerical applications with separation into units. You may notice that these all also apply to the factory. To confront them in their own idiom with something that “speaks” too of meditation praxis is to also say “slow down” and, perhaps, “turn in a fresh direction” or even, jokingly, “watch out for spacey people messing with this system.” Whatever we feel about this, we may also feel in our gut that it might be a good thing to mess in this way. That’s the joke and the brilliance of this little piece of art that I borrowed from the internet (where I found it with no originator named).
         In our society of commodified thoughts, thoughts are packaged for us iconically all the time. This one enters an established domain and messes with it (“occupies” it), by virtue of its packaging. Ezra Pound in his ABC of Reading wrote “DICHTEN=CONDENSARE” (New Directions 1960 ed., 36). It is the condensed quality of this visual that makes it poetic and allows it a poetic function in the poem.
         A good line in a poem plays upon the whole rest of the poem to make it all both add up anew and reach out further. This visual was chosen to act like a line in this poem because it has meditation in it to fit with the lines in words, and it has dimensions that reach beyond into social domains the other lines don’t quite reach.
         If you go back to the first poem in “Trouble in Mind,” a more complex version of this takes place with the iconic elements there. We have Saint Patrick in marble and a “No Camping” sign on a green open hill. The sign names County Meath and helps the chance that this hill might be recognized as the Hill of Tara, the ancient and almost mythical government seat of Ireland. With or without that chance, the picture enters the poem and expands upon its theme of a world where artsy concerns clash against the concerns of those who must make a camp and often sleep on the sidewalks. I won’t belabor all that here, but invite such close and open reading of all the pictures as something like a line in the poem not given a temporal place among the others but a spatially logical and emotionally ethical one.

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