I’m listening to a re-broadcast of the an interview with Missouri’s (first) Poet Laureate Walter Bargen on public radio. It was on this morning when a friend called my cell phone to say, “Hey, Mark Tiedemann’s on the radio! Bye!” I walked out to my car and tuned in the station to listen. Then, just now, Emily called my cell, “Hey Mark Tiedemann’s on the radio! Bye!” Mark is president of the Missouri Center for the Book and a good friend. (His blog is here.)
As the host was asking the obligatory questions about poetry (why doesn’t it ryhme?), I was taken back to high-school when the creative writing class was assigned the task of defining poetry. I admit I was at a loss to define it. I do remember though, that by the time we were finished discussing it, I had a word. A word that has stayed with me all these years. I heard it tonight listening to Mark try to describe why he picked Mr. Bargen for the Poet Laureate of Missouri.
The word is universitality. Not universality; but universitality.
The poet’s job (and all other artists, I would argue) is to reveal the universitality of a thing. A clear example of this revealing would be a sculptor “revealing” the sculpture within a block of marble. A poem reveals a moment in time and exposes the eternal lying just beneath.
I’m reminded of one of favorite books, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light by William Irwin Thompson. I can’t exactly remember the quote I’m trying to think of, but it was something like “the eternity that lays at the end of every exhale.” I was looking for that book just the other day to give to Emily. She wanted to know what the meaning of life was so I recommended the Book of Job and this one by Irwin.
I’ll leave you tonight with a couple of quotes from these two great books:
First, from Job, chapter 28 verse 22-28:
So where does Wisdom come from?
And where does Insight live?
It can’t be found by looking, no matter
how deep you dig, no matter how high you fly.
If you search through the graveyard and question the dead,
they say, “We’ve only heard rumors of it.”
God alone knows the way to Wisdom,
he knows the exact place to find it.
He knows where everything is on earth,
he sees everything under heaven.
After he commanded the winds to blow
and measured out the waters,
Arranged for the rain
and set off explosions of thunder and lightning,
He focused on Wisdom,
made sure it was all set and tested and ready.
Then he addressed the human race: “Here it is!
and Insight means shunning evil.”
And second, from Thompson:
“Forms of knowledge change as society changes. Sometimes these changes are small and incremental; at other times the changes are transformations of the structures of knowledge and not merely the contents. From religion to philosophy, from alchemy to chemistry, from legend to history, the social organization of knowledge changes as a new elite comes in to challenge the old authorities. But this movement is not simply a linear and one-directional shift toward increasing rationalization and de-mystification; when the rational historian has come in to take away authority from the mystical and tribal bard, the artist has returned to create new forms of expression to re-sacrilize, re-enchant, re-mythologize.”