Thursday, July 03, 2008

Katabasis

into the out of to edge and earth seadrumming drift on shore to end of day
out from surf to sand flow foam into cavecool arc windlight in inscape
of end stark in to back roof of mouth cave stone stain silt and flood
down coast down hill down trail to silt sand falling cliff span
sit wetdry sand all over seabreeze light over naked skin
sun bury pink burned skin sandfoot hardstrung
gale into end weather earth sea down coast in
ruins canyon slip wade to sea stone arch
wind spin cave in arch breathing sea
seals fathomless eye watch shore
estuary flow to tide out edge
past arc of secret archway
slip down night fall
cool under trees
sun down to
gold light
down
sun
to

sun to sun earthspirits wind through beach caves
last nude swimmers walking through surf come in
through tunnel cave to starlight shore same ocean same
and in last light turn dance upcliff face feet certain sure
ancient dreamstone in line of seastars gulls kelp bladders
strewn everywhere to be found naked under the sun
the books of tide and sinew

into
lost beat
come heart
to live inscape
come wind to earth
begin long arc return
to sun star tide sea shield
moon and cave drift whirl
in arch spin naked in seafoam
silhouette and stones of the ancients
visitors to shore retuning inland harps
strung with wind a life spent nailed to shoreland

and every sunburned prayer an emptiness of sign and seal
strange witness to the lemniscate of inward summer freed

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Gary R. Hess said...

Interesting poem... and nice choice of picture. They go very well together.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hi, Gary, thanks very much.

The photo was taken years before the poem, but the location where the photo was taken was very much in my mind when writing, so finding the image and putting them together seemed like a natural.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

First of all, this is not my kind of poetry at all. Had it tripped over it elsewhere I wouldn't even have given it a second glance. But I did. And I tried very hard to put aside my preconceptions. The piece reminded me of Beckett's Not I in that not every word I read actually registered but images - or writing if you will - began appearing on the wall of words I found myself confronted with. I also learned two new words but I'll never remember them.

What the piece reminded me of was The Rite of Spring, the first part at least, the pagan appreciation of nature. I saw people going down to the sea to watch the sun set and the stars appear.

Anywhere near the mark?

3:45 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Well, it's a good response, Jim. I don't tell people what my poems are supposed to mean, though, because they're not puzzles to be decoded. The echoes of Beckett and Stravinsky, though, I'll definitely take as compliments. Thanks.

It's one kind of poem I write: it is indeed image-driven, cinematic, non-narrative, and open to multiple interpretations.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

That's one of the problems I have with a piece like this. I don't know if I'm right. I like to do things right. I want to check the answer sheet at the back after I'm finished to see what my score was. How do I know I'm not doing it wrong and every poem like that I read wrong? It's like when you're a kid and you're reading a book for an adult and you come across words you've never heard before and so you make your best guess. For years I thought co-operate was coop-erate and there are more embarrassing ones I won't go into here.

I feel like poems like this should be prefaced with a little instruction: HOW TO READ THIS POEM. To be honest it wasn't until I read about Not I and what Beckett's intentions were that I started to appreciate the piece myself. I had to study it before I could sit back and be a part of the audience. I did that to a certain extent with your poem. I looked up the words I didn't understand and used those to give the piece some context. I think with a bit of practice it would read quite well. I tried a few lines on my wife and, like Not I, it works better delivered at a decent pace.

7:13 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Well, living in (and with) uncertainty is also sort of what this type of poem is about, ennit? Art that can be explained, or turned into a Cliff's Notes, isn't always better than art that can't. (I make no such claims of being better or not for my own poems; I just write what I write.) Becoming comfortable with not-knowing is a product of experience and maturity. I wish more writers had that. Of course the thing that we writers as a group have the most trouble with is discomfort about the uncertainty of the readers' reactions. One way around that is to not deal with it; another way is to acknowledge that the problem exists, but not focus on it.

If a poem can't stand on its own, without footnotes or explanations, my usual feeling is that it hasn't succeeded as a poem. There are exceptions. I don't claim that this poem is an exception, but you won't find me generally "explaining" any of my poems. In many cases, I've gotten responses from readers that are uncertain of their reading, but are dead on target about their responses; they "get it" in the gut if not in the head. That's more than good enough for me. Poetry isn't necessarily intellectual to me; it is somatic, and immersive, and at its best it's participatory, like music, or a movie that pulls you all the way into its world.

There are pieces of music I write in which the actual notes played are less important than the gesture, the shape of the line, the movement of the phrasing. Gesture is a term I openly borrow from modern dance (which, yes, I did get some training in once upon a time). But I write out specific notes in the score anyway, because in my experience the musicians who can improvise the notes while understanding the gesture are few and far between.

Most performers (including actors) need (or desire) to be told what to do; if they have to make it up themselves, they fumble around and do stupid stuff, rather than getting into the spirit of the thing. Frankly, it's insecurity, which can often manifest as being uncomfortable with uncertainty. (John Cage complained many times about the quality of performances of his works for just this reason.)

I like your reading and interpretation of this poem quite well. Is it the "right" reading? I have no idea. Again, it's not a decoder ring. It is certainly *A* right reading, for me, even if it's in agreement, or not, with my own reading. I am pleased by the Beckett comparison, though, and I liked your idea of reading it out loud at a decent pace. Thanks.

9:25 AM  

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