Air and the human heart

I’ve been reading an interview online called ‘The Complexity of the Human Heart’, a conversation between poet Marie Howe and David Elliott. You can find it here:

Howe’s position as a poet is both experimental and personal.

After my workshop last week I’ve been thinking about how I want to both experiment with levels of meaning and emotion in the work, and further make transparent or intensify the moment of reading, the process that the reader goes through when navigating the poem.

I want to evoke the sensation for the person reading the work that they are discovering the poem, as I discovered it and also in ways that haven’t happened yet. In this sense the poem does not resolve an issue but allows for the issues motion and commotion to transpire in it. The tone of my work can often feel ‘burdened’ for a reader and often the first instinct can be that something important in the poem is not being discovered.

It’s a challenge for me to find ways in which I can facilitate a situation in which someone reading my work can be comfortable pulling out what meaning they can, as well as a sense that the logic of the poem, say its repetitions, synonyms, echo’s, beats or rhythms, have been realized as another part of the poems over-all message and the commotion that disturbs the message.

This essential tension inhabits longer fiction through narrative or character development, how a character grapples with their relationships and environment alongside their less accessible inner world. In a way I’m trying to realize the dynamics of transparency and inarticulateness that shape perception and experience. There are many poets engaged with this, and I’m trying to figure out how I want to approach it, what I want to prioritize  and of course build up the language I need to realize it – a kind of blind anticipation and subsequent training.

Howe puts it brilliantly when she says, ‘I also think it is my desire to have [the poems] be experiences that actually happen between the speaker and the hearer so that they happen in the air.’

This is an interesting way to picture a poem – the parts that you see/hear and the parts that are in the air – that is an exciting tension!

Howe also say’s that, ‘All too often we create a self we can live with [in poetry].’ This is something to think about as I position the livable and unlivable components of self, not in the be-all-and-end-all sense but those forms of self-consciousness that define our temporal and special being in the world.

This is all very serious sounding, so back to Howe again for a moment;

‘So I think maybe when we say confessional we mean a poet who writes about one thing, beats one drum, and we are supposed to feel something for that poet that’s different from what we feel for ourselves or other people.’

This is very intriguing to me, that the poet allows for a unique kind of relationship to exist in the world, that allows a sense of perspective or position that is alternative, while wholly accessible, or identifiable. This is the space of the imaginary and real in which these poles aren’t opposed, they just flux in the hope of a capacity for something to happen in the air of the encounter between writer and reader.


‘Was it Hopkins who said, “A taste of self”? I guess I still believe in the soul even if I don’t believe in identity.’

For Howe, whatever you call this space – wild capacity, self-soul, air, it is the ability to explore a variety or complexity of the human heart in the poem that grounds the relationship or contract between writer and reader.

‘It’s the complexity of the human heart that I think is poetry’s subject–the complexity of the human experience. I think the best poets writing today represent that complexity in the broadest, deepest sense. So there are poets who tell personal stories but honour that complexity’.

Howe has written several collections of poetry, all quite different explorations of the hearts complexity. She has some great advice about writing’s coming into being:

‘Howe: I said I feel something has me in its mouth chewing me and there is nothing for me to do but be chewed, and Stanley said, “Yes, and you must wait to see who you’ll be when it’s done with you.” Because I wanted to write right away, and I couldn’t, and I had to wait to see who I was going to be after this experience sort of had me for a while. I feel that’s what’s happening now. I have to wait and keep writing, but wait to see what really wants to have a hold of me next and who I am and then to write the next real collection.’


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