Poetry fears



I am so far from a poet that poets frighten me, a little.  What real poets do strikes me as wonderful but risky, which I imagine to be descending to the forge of language, the fertile void, and wreaking language new. I think that to do that you have to expose yourself to something that is not quite of time and space, and there is also the feeling that It is choosing you, It is causing the poetry, not you.  This is why poems can change us.  We recall that poet means maker; this is not a figure of speech with respect to the human mind.

I'm interested in the nature of the It.  We know that poetic talent is a tricky fluid.  It often strikes someone for a brief period and then departs, the number of poets who flamed out young is not small.  And there are all those poets of whom we remember but one poem, or even just a single line.  Very odd, yes?  If it were just a freak of the brain, you would expect it to go on, unless you think poetic genius is a transient biological phenomenon.  That seems a stretch, a particularly egregious example of what Sir John Eccles called "promissory materialism:" we have no idea of how this might work but our faith is strong that we will some day find a simple material explanation.  

Well, maybe.  Meanwhile there is Rimbaud. This provincial lad started writing poems as a teenager and by the time he was 21 he had revolutionized French poetry, indeed had an effect on poetry in general that is hard to overestimate.  At 22, however, he abandoned poetry, joined the Dutch colonial forces, deserted, and spent the last 15 years of his life as a vagabond trader in Africa.  He hated to talk about his time as a poet, never wrote anything else, and in all respects lived a mediocre, if adventurous life.  

This is so difficult to explain.  What was it that flowed through this undistinguished bad boy for half a dozen years and then departed?  The Greeks, of course, thought that poetry, and all creative acts, came via a daemon, and actual being that spoke through the poet.  We are not allowed to believe in such stuff now, but occasionally when I write, I'm aware that, in Pink Floyd's immortal words, there's someone in my head, but it's not me.  A little scary, and I imagine it must be worse for poets.