08 April 2007

Tonight, I think I'm gonna go downtown, tonight I think I'm gonna look around, for something I couldn't see when this world was more real to me

Under the Poplars

by Cesar Vallejo

Like priestly imprisoned poets,
the poplars of blood have fallen asleep.
On the hills, the flocks of Bethlehem
chew arias of grass at sunset.

The ancient shepherd, who shivers
at the last martyrdoms of light,
in his Easter eyes has caught
a purebred flock of stars.

Formed in orphanhood, he goes down
with rumors of burial to the praying field,
and the sheep bells are seasoned
with shadow.

It survives, the blue warped
In iron, and on it, pupils shrouded,
A dog etches its pastoral howl.


Karen said...

You often write about your photography, but rarely about the poems you post. What draws you to some poems over others?

mark burnette said...

i talk too much, really. poems and photography are both mysterious. i can't map out the reasons i'm drawn to a particular photograph or poem. often, i think i'm drawn to poems/photos that move toward silence, refuse to take part in the babble of public life. Louise Gluck gets at this in an essay she wrote on poetry: "It seems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries. The problem is to make a whole that does not forfeit this power."

I tend to like art--whether it's photography or poetry--that is understated and plain, art that doesn't attempt to provide a finished statement. at some point, perhaps that type of art moves into meaninglessness, but in my view going in the other direction leads toward propaganda or marketing.

more generally, i suppose i'm also drawn to themes of loneliness and alienation because i often feel lonely, and alienated on some fundemental level. my favorite poet--or at least someone who wrote multiple poems that mean a lot to me--is James Wright. Here is one of his poems:

Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join Me

Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone.
I climb a slight rise of grass.
I do not want to disturb the ants
Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Carrying small white petals,
Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them.
I close my eyes for a moment and listen.
The old grasshoppers
Are tired, they leap heavily now,
Their thighs are burdened.
I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make.
Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins
In the maple trees.

a great poem...i should have just posted it as a response to your question, since i'm beginning to feel like what i'm writing is drivel. one thing i like about this poem is that it's moving toward a different language--the language of crickets and grasshoppers.

words are limited, but poetry can move beyond words. poetry is from the word "poesis," which for the Greeks meant a way of revealing the world, or letting the world reveal itself. so, poetry is a way of facing the world and abiding in mystery. i don't really know much about Zen, but in an article i was reading earlier today, a guy used the word Mushin, which he said means "being open to the way that the world is experienced sensuously, without distortion of concepts, so as to find the original nature before any thought is made." To me, this seems similar to the Greek notion of poesis. It's an engagement that's also a letting go. art as a way of being-in-the-world.

of course, all of this may just be talk. if i'm drawn to a poem or a photo, it's because of something that clicks before i analyze it. i'm a man of moods, not very consistent. i'm not sure i believe what i just wrote, and i'm not sure i trust words to convey things accurately.