Saturday, March 23, 2013

"The moment of change is the only poem."

Texas locust, in change. All rights reserved,
Erin Pringle-Toungate
The days are drawing nearer to National Poetry Month here in the United States, and so it's time not to begin thinking about poetry but to begin sharing with each other the fact that we think about poetry.  And so . . .

This is the year of my life that will be marked by the poems of Adrienne Rich.  Already I can see myself in the future, looking back to now, and thinking of her poems and all the thoughts and moments tied to and unfurled from them.  Like the faint scent of oil and new gravel on country roads sends me back into my child self, her poems will bring me back to here, which will be then, eventually.  That's likely more due to the power of human memory than the power of poems.  I wonder.

Yesterday, I read this off the wall of my friend's office, taken and taped from a page-a-day calendar:

"The moment of change is the only poem." 
~ Adrienne Rich

And so my mind has been circling around the thought like a spider circles around the center of her web (and does the spider think that the center of the web is the center of herself?  I wonder.)  I understand, of course, that Rich is telling us what every poem is, that it always contains the turn, or is the unfurling moment of change, or that it contains the change (or the illusion of change).  And in the poet's way, she is also saying that the reading of a poem is the moment of change for the reader, surely.  And that the amount of power that a poem can wield is immense, if change is immense.  Surely, change is immense, no matter the situation.  Or perhaps that's only a wish, the wish that any change was as profound as another.  That each new blink is as profound as a new thought. 

Now and then, do we human beings, like strange locusts, change into--and out of--poems?  Or are we continuously poems, continuously creating moments of change, in the way each new blink has not quite been done before?  Or is it only the wish that the new blink is unique when it is, in fact, not at all.  The wish that the fingerprint is equal to the whole body, the whole life--unique, a never-before.

Does it devalue the poem to compare it to a human life?  Surely the poet works far more consciously on the poem than the human works on the human's life.  I wonder.

Perhaps it would be useful simply to end on one of Rich's poems in which she provides some guidance about how she considers the poem and the human life.  But, of course, profound love is in here, too, and love, I think, more and more, is an element in life that is like the conflict or problem within a story--in that any character will deal with that problem in a way that defies who the writer wishes the character to be, and who that character imagines him or herself to be . . . 

From 21 Love Poems by Adrienne Rich:


I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you've been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I've been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You've kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone...
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.