Poetry Response Ability (a manifesto) | Trish Hopkinson

“Today I realize that my text is not going anywhere—except to meet itself.” Octavio Paz

Writing and reading poetry helps me interpret the static in my world—the noise, the many alternate voices; and to determine my roles and how each role alters others—to find the mother, wife, daughter, sister, student, friend, and poet wandering within. I read and write as a woman, as an aspiring artist, as an extension of myself. I write out of necessity, out of bursting urges, and with determination and courage. I write bravely, when all else is quiet, shy, and scared, to share secrets, and to solve mysteries. I read and write for relief—to find and fill in my personal perspective, to extract the byproducts of being, to produce an end. The creative process itself and how it reciprocates, is poetry’s true intention; its end—the poem—is the authentic byproduct.

As a poet, I experience emotional connections to the world through my writing process. Writing a poem is often exhausting, exhilarating, and perspective-changing. For me, writing is necessity and to develop the tools I need for self-expression, to learn how to mimic life in metaphor using only language, I read. Reading poetry initiates an emotional response to the art and provides the building materials, the foundation and framing, for personal renovation. My own capacity to respond through words formed into poetry is further informed by my ability to emotionally respond to the art of others. Inspiration itself comes not only from the lives we live, but from paying attention or attending to the life expressions of the artists that surround us.

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I read and write as a woman, as an aspiring artist, as an extension of myself. I write out of necessity, out of bursting urges, and with determination and courage. I write bravely, when all else is quiet, shy, and scared, to share secrets, and to solve mysteries.

Our poetry lives have constructed a structure of living human history—an art museum of ever-changing exhibits. Events, generations, wars, and entire societies are documented in poetry; not just poems actually written about specific historical topics, but even more so, how the past manifests itself and informs the poetry being written.

For example, postmodern poets such as Edmond Jabès present us with lyrical language that both directly and indirectly address the loss experienced during the Holocaust. He writes, “As the stars have risen from the abyss of night so / man, in the second half of the twentieth century, / has been born from the ashes of Auschwitz.” His poems carry a theme that the words given to us aren’t enough, that they are inefficient, and that God is disappearing or absent from them. “Impossible to grasp, perhaps, the Truth. / Trying to express it we are often led astray. / Disloyal in spite of itself, the first word.” Jabès’ takes great risk and sacrifices much—he seems to be writing from the abyss he speaks of and also as a metaphor for the Jews of WWII himself; he presents a preoccupation with death as the only absolute reality. Poetry allows us to come closer to people and experiences for which we would otherwise have no access.

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Poetry allows us to come closer to people and experiences for which we would otherwise have no access.

Reading the poets of the past provides the building blocks, but creating our own art is what defines the shape and height of the wall. The creation of a poem is the journey, the path, and the poem itself becomes the end, the concrete metaphor of memories. For poets and readers alike, the more unique the metaphor, the more specific the experience; and often, the more whole the poem. The poet’s path is one of using language to recreate a portion or a moment of a personal exclusive existence.

By using metaphor and storytelling, poets can broach tricky topics, ask difficult questions, and challenge our sensibilities. Poet Sharon Olds addresses both social and personal issues in her poetry. Her poems play with topics of power and powerlessness, from suicide and racism to abandonment and the idiosyncrasies of her parents. Her metaphors are not only visual, but painful and pleasant at the same time, reaching beyond the unexpected to a level of discomfort that affixes the reader’s thoughts to the page. In “The Abandoned Newborn,” she calls out society, asking if everyone should be saved, and who among us should have the power to decide who should be saved: “. . . I am / full of joy to see your new face among us, / Lee Frank Merklin Jennings I am / standing here in dumb American praise for your life.” Even more astounding, in “On the Subway” she writes, “His feet are huge, in black sneakers / laced with white in a complex pattern like a / set of intentional scars.” The connotation of these few lines is enormous and anvil heavy, an intrepid commentary on the enduring effects of slavery, civil rights, and racial profiling in America.

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Poet Sharon Olds addresses both social and personal issues in her poetry. Her poems play with topics of power and powerlessness, from suicide and racism to abandonment and the idiosyncrasies of her parents.

Difficult social issues are often at the crux of post-modern poetry. Poetry has a response ability in that it serves to remind us of what we are and have been, what we’ve accomplished and destroyed, and all that is lost and remaining. It isolates desire and longing, celebrates connections, and provides inspiration for new creations. It saves us from clichés, wraps us in loneliness, and guards the entrance to Plato’s cave. Poetic language describes the unavoidable paradox of our existence, scatters boundaries, and fills in the grayness—the space between black and white. It speaks to all of us and for those who choose to write, provides the opportunity to renovate—express, resolve, or unearth uncertainties. For me, poetry is necessity—the poems I read are the closest I can come to the lives of others and the poems I write are the byproducts of living.

Works Cited
Jabès, Edmond. Desire for a Beginning Dread of One Single End. Trans. Rosmarie Waldrop. New York: Granary Books, 2001. Print.
Olds, Sharon. The Gold Cell. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1987. Print.

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Trish Hopkinson is a project manager by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow her poetry adventures here and be sure to follow her on Facebook.

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3 thoughts on “Poetry Response Ability (a manifesto) | Trish Hopkinson

  1. sunainabhatia

    I have not read the poets you mention in this piece but am definitely going to check them out. Your words on poetry are so apt. Good poetry helps overcome a certain unease that build up within me. When words flow through a poetic medium, I seem to lighten up.

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