Thursday, December 3, 2009

No One Has Ever Believed More than This Mother Fucker Right Here: an Arse Poetica on God, Sincerity, Belief, and Dead Baby Deer

Lorca refers to the duende as “a struggle.” It is not the muse, a concept that always seemed rather quaint and cheesy to me. The muse always conjured images of pixies and baby deer and children and flowers, whereas the duende forces us to deal with dead baby deer on the side of the road or the child who stabs his fourth-grade teacher with a pencil. The duende is the struggle of our souls hanging on, yearning against death and heartache, against the seething desire of this world to fuck us over.

Lorca tells us that the duende will not appear without the possibility of death. I feel as though the possibility for death is everywhere. Therefore duende. I often wonder how I’ve managed to survive to the age of twenty-five, a quarter of a century. That’s a long time to not get hit by a bus, or attacked by a rottweiller, or to simply have my heart burst because of some minor flaw. A quarter of a century is a good amount of time to accumulate worries and fears.

And this is where poetry begins. Poetry, more intimately than any other art form, is concerned with the human experience and its may flaws and complications, the way we as creatures of this world interact with such an unknowable vastness of knowledge and experience to be gained, a vastness that we will never even walk into, the smallness of who we are.

Our smallness next to God or whatever.

Our smallness next to the love in our hearts.

Our smallness when we realize our hope is too big for its own good.

I think Lorca would advise those of us that are afraid of death or those who don’t like to dwell on death to avoid poetry, or the arts in general. If you don’t want the struggle then don’t struggle. But I find “the struggle” to be a rewarding and beautiful thing, if only because when the struggle is over I feel as though I have added to the worth of the world in my expression and communication of all that I’m struggling against.

Which is a lie that I tell myself to justify my writing poetry.

The poem is a method of communicating with the cause of all of our fears and anxieties. It is a way of communing with death. In a way, poetry becomes a form of therapy. It allows for the I to be freed from the heart (or maybe the heart freed from the I). It allows the heart to stand up and shake the dirt from its walls, the dirt that has gathered from all that time spent balled up inside the ribcage. But the removal of the heart from the body only exposes the heart to newer anxieties, newer and more complicated, more foreign dirts.

I’m aware of how I’m mixing the physical with the metaphysical. This, too, is the turf of poetry. Even the spiritual.

It is possible for God to exist in a poem. It is possible for the Devil to exist in a poem. It is even possible for an unborn, never to be born, deer to exist in a poem and for this deer to look you straight in the eye and tell you that you are fucked, that you will be ok.

If I wanted to talk to God I would buy a gun. If God wanted to talk to me he/she would have. If there is a need for prayer then there is a need for poetry, and that need is in the exhale, not in the inhale (or maybe the inhale too). Rather than write another poem, I should just chop off my hands and remove my tongue. I don’t know what a poem is. That is another reason I should chop off my hands. These last few years I’ve been stealing basketball cards from a small shop in Abu-Dabi. I have been chattering where I should have been shivering. A good way to start a poem is to say “I FEEL...” or “I BELIEVE.” I say this knowing that nothing I say is true or can ever be proven to be true, and even the things I believe, I will abandon very soon.

Another way to write a poem is to lick a hotplate and scrape the burn scales from your tongue and onto a piece of paper.

A lot of things have happened since I was born and before I was born and a lot of these things are maddening. I can’t reconcile my hope with my fear and that is what a poem is for. The most inexpressible muddy qualities of life expressed through language, the most muddy and impossible to trust thing to have ever come out of my mouth.

I want to say that a poem should encapsulate a true thought, but what is a “true thought?” We are all bi-polar. We are all schizophrenic. We are all messes of human beings and shouldn’t poetry, which I have always felt should capture each shake of the human heart, work in the same way? I want a poem that is imperfect, a poem that can let the threat of death or heartache fuck its way through a poem, no joke. A joke, to me, being very similar to a poem.

Here is a joke that I love:

Our Father who art in Heaven,


And that is the ultimate joke that I have repeated, many times to myself, in earnest, when I was younger, but I still have yet to understand its humor or even if it’s humorous. Maybe it’s funny because it is not. Does a joke need a punchline? Does a belief need a foundation?

But what is funny if not everything? and hurtful too? and nothing is right! nothing is the way anything should be! which is why a poem that is a cut up hurt bad leg of a marathon runner in some inappropriate season is the best poem of all. Contrasted with a news story about a plane crash in Nepal, a story about a middle school’s production of A Death of a Salesman followed by a commercial for hot tubs, it is the most incredible thing.

Sometimes I feel so worried that God lives in every poem that I write, and so what if God is there? What is a poem if not a prayer?

A prayer is real. A prayer is sincere. Can we be sincere? I think we can be sincere. I think we can create new words while being “sincere,” whatever that means.

I believe in the honest-to-God.

I think sincerity should be a given in art of any form. I can appreciate irony at times, but irony doesn’t stick to the walls of my heart the way that sincerity does. Imagine if Daniel Johnston had written a bunch of ironic pop songs instead of Songs of Pain. I feel like I’ve been affected in a positive manner because of Daniel Johnston’s unabashed sincerity. In fact, I don’t know if I would’ve had the courage to write anything that I’ve ever written, to embrace all that is hurtful to embrace, without seeing that it’s ok to be vulnerable and sincere in art, without Daniel Johnston as an example of that.

Oh sincerity, hello. You are impossible.

Every poem that I love is a love poem. Every poem consumed with love is hurtful. I don’t know what to do with this conundrum, this catastrophe.

In his essay about the art of the love song, Nick Cave responds to Lorca’s essay on the duende. He has this to say, “The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil – the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here – so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.”

And that suffering, being the most universal element of humanity, inseparable from love, is what drives the poem that is real and made of flesh in a way that is not flesh but it could be.

One-thousand feet above my head right now, an airplane is bursting a cloud of ducks into a cloud of duck meat and feathers. Why are we not having a feast? Because we cannot fly. Therefore, we must eat the baby deer off the side of the road.

I wonder what is meaningful.

The meaningful. Can we find it?

Can we kick it?

I don’t believe in words also um dumb sentences get put out window would not own ok but ok left outside out fuck dildo

I don’t want to know how deep this can get. It will not be deep.

I don’t want to know any damn answer.

Art is made in the lack of control. Duende. Harm. Violence and chaos are major factors in life. They surround us. Nature is composed of violence and chaos. A baby deer eaten by a wolf. A forest fire and then life happens again. We can try to control the world as much as we want, but we cannot control it. In art we attempt to control, we attempt to create something like a shield or a helmet that will protect us from everything that we find wrong. What is the point of realist fiction? Why not make a documentary?

The most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed was a time-lapse video of a dead rabbit decomposing, or maybe it was actually a video of all the small things consuming the rabbit, the bacteria and the maggots feasting and really maybe that’s what was so beautiful. I have no way of knowing.

A few weeks ago I drove by a mountain, and I thought to myself, “That is beautiful!” And then I thought, “Why is that beautiful? Why am I labeling that mountain as beautiful without knowing why?” I tried to think of reasons why the mountain was beautiful. I could not think of a single reason why I should call the mountain beautiful.

Now I would like to talk about the surreal.

In his essay “Manifesto of Surrealism,” André Breton begins by saying, “So strong is the belief in life, in what is most fragile in life---real life, I mean---that in the end this belief is lost.” So what does one do with that lost belief? The only option is to create a new belief, a belief that cannot be lost because it is too slippery, too much a part of the reason the belief in life that we had to begin with became lost, because it is not really real.

Try to define what is real. It is even more difficult than defining what is beautiful.

We must fill this lost space or we ourselves will become lost, so in that space we put our art, our poetry. That is the new belief in life, our art. Art is our new religion. Breton talks about “the madness” that is left in the lost space and what to do with that. Breton suggests that this “madness” is what keeps us grounded in a world where the “real” is so harsh and relentless, that we must let this madness become our art. Let reality become a clay for our minds to mold, not a bank from which to draw. Who can afford the burden of reality anyway? Who can afford the lost space. It is so vast and expansive. It would take at least fifteen million dead baby deers to fill even a corner of that lost space.

I don’t believe anything that I say.

I plan on contradicting myself as many times as I can in my life. I want my poems to go against everything I have said and claimed to have believed. It would be dishonest to do otherwise. What is a belief if not something to learn how to disbelieve? Shouldn’t we get over ourselves? Shouldn’t we move on?

I want to claim as my anthem the last two stanzas from one of Frank O’Hara’s many poems entitled “Song.” These lines read as such:

how I hate disease, it’s like worrying
that comes true
and it simply must not be able to happen

in a world where you are possible
my love
nothing can go wrong for us, tell me


These lines tell of the fear and the promise of the fear’s actualization, which is the end result of disease, which is death. Frank O’Hara is dead. The “you” from these lines, probably dead. How can we escape anything? We can’t. Except through, maybe, a few lines of poetry. Frank O’Hara is alive in those lines. Frank’s “you” is alive in those lines. That’s enough, I think, to justify poetry.

There is something in O’Hara’s voice that is not afraid, though the word’s express an ultimate fear of an ultimate guarantee, a guarantee that soon we will not exist. Which leads me to think, why do I bother doing anything? Why find joy in anything? Why believe in anything? When I was a child I went to Sunday school. I was so afraid to sin because, at that age, at that level of innocence and naivety, Hell was a real place. It was more real, to me, than the state of Colorado (a state I had yet to visit). In order to ensure that I never had to visit Hell, or anywhere like it, I prayed. I don’t remember what I prayed. I don’t think it matters. I think, at that point, I was simply praying prayers that I had been taught, prayers that were imitations of those prayers prayed aloud by Sunday school teachers, prayers of thanks for family and forgiveness and for the weather outside being as nice as it is and for Jesus dying on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and that we don’t have to live in a place quite as awful as Hell. And now in the absence of prayer, in defiance of Hell, there are poems. And these poems must speak to all things real and all things unreal. The poem, for me, has become a place of surrender, where I can drop my shield and let myself believe in myself or anyone else, against the fear, against the impending doom that is just another part of being a living thing in a world that will eventually end all living things.

When you see a baby deer dead by the side of the road, that is something. There is an unfearing fear that must be made real through language, through the uncertain and chaotic structure of language, in order to express our true belief (in whatever) and want and even love and our wanton love (for whatever). That is what we must discover.

Breton writes, “we, who have made no effort whatsoever to filter, who in our works have made ourselves into simple receptacles of so many echoes, modest recording instruments who are not mesmerized by the drawings we are making, perhaps we serve an even nobler cause.” The filter is the failure of all things that would be honest. It’s like trying to puke through clenched teeth. Why would you want to keep that inside you? The unfiltered creation will be littered with things that seem like mistakes, for sure. But in these mistakes we will find some truth that could not be revealed through a carefully thought out process.

Creation or intention fused with chance and mistake is the big ??? of what are we doing here, so why shouldn’t our art reflect this? In my dream last night I held a frog with a scalpel growing out of it, which seemed like something real, like it is the next step in frog evolution. And I held the frog. Here are some typos I deleted from that last sentence: helld, dearm, fro]]]]]]]]]]]]]]. Breton calls a key to surrealism “the following of thought,” which I maybe failed to do by not deleting those typos. But what good does “following thought” do? I believe that thought is a different reality, as abstract and untouchable as the language we use to express thought. We have an opportunity through words (nouns) to make an image that is real if impossible in actual reality, a representation based on reference points that we have accrued through experience. And there is an emotional truth in the unreal (for some reason, I don’t want to use the word “surreal”) just as poignant as the emotional truth that comes from the real, i.e. hearing the words “I love you.” After all, emotion is abstract. Truth is abstract. God, belief, love are all abstractions. We must speak without fear, without pause in our voices that come from a place unknown, sent out to unknowns or into ears, to speak like fangs ripping through a baby deer, like our words can do that, like that can happen, like that is our belief.

5 comments:

  1. There are a lot of good, quotable excerpts here.

    I think you accurately portrayed how difficult, and consequently, how annoying it is to try and explain where art or poetry or duende or expression or emotions or thoughts or whatever who gives a fuck comes from.

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  2. With Joe, I repeat, there are a lot of good, quotable excerpts here.

    Yesterday, I was just sitting here at work, unable to move or do anything, because of duende. I typed, "odds of dying in a plane crash," into Google, and read and read. I'm not even flying anywhere soon. I was simply stunned and baffled that I am 26, and even with all of those odds out there, pummelling and crushing human beings, my ribs still have something to protect.

    I thought if I could write a poem or something with those odds in them, this small, dumb quantification of airplane deaths, the world might be right again.

    I didn't write that poem.

    Instead, I called my good friend Benji, who will be in town this weekend, and I said, "I miss you. Can we drink coffee together and laugh?" And, that was a better poem.

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  3. writing a poem can be too much. i think the best poems (or at least my favorite poems) come from that hard struggle with the duende, which i don't believe is ever won. i think the only result that a struggle with the duende can produce is a draw. you ultimately come out alive, but the that is always possible still haunts you.

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