Thursday, March 22, 2012

Poetry: Reduction

I want to be a poet. But what is a poet?

This reminds me of JD Salinger. The greatest compliment Salingers characters from the Glass family can give anyone is to call him or her a poet. There are many quotes in Salinger's writings about what it means to be a poet.

Anyway here is one example passage from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. The majority of this novella takes place in a taxi cab where five people are crammed in the back seat on a hot day in New York City. They are on their way to the wedding reception of Buddy's brother, Seymour, who, incidentally, did not show up to his own ceremony. They get stuck in traffic on the way and decide to leave the cab. The "tiny old man" is a deaf mute, the great uncle of the bride, who has been sitting indifferently during the entire car ride while everyone else was up in arms about the wedding, the heat, the tightness of the cab. Buddy is the narrator.

Somewhat over legibly, I wrote on a sheet of paper, "We're held up indefinitely by the parade. We're going to find a phone and have some cold drinks somewhere. Will you join us?" I folded the paper once then handed it to the matron of honor, who read it, then passed it on the the tiny old man. He read it, grinning, then looked at me and wagged his head up and down several times vehemently. I thought for an instant that this was a full and perfectly eloquent extent of his reply, but he suddenly motioned to me with his hand, and I gathered that he wanted me to pass my pad and pencil. I did so, without looking over at the matron of honor from whom great waves of impatience were rising. The old man adjusted the pad and pencil on his lap with greatest care, then sat for a moment, pencil poised, in obvious concentration, his grin diminished only a very trifle. Then the pencil began very unsteadily to move. An "i" was dotted. And then both pad an pencil were returned personally to me, with a marvelously cordial extra added wag of the head. He had written in letter not quite jelled yet, the single word, "Delighted." The matron of honor, who was reading over my shoulder, gave a sound faintly like a snort, but I quickly looked over at the great writer and tried to show by my expression that all of us in the car knew a great poem when we saw one and we were grateful.

Isn't this marvelous? Karolina and I talked about modern art yesterday and how it is a symbol of something deeply profound or philosophical. It is visual art reduced to one idea with no distractions. Her art piece, a black canvas charcoaled is called, "Nothingness." But you can only see it in the light, and in seeing the painting you see traces of the process of making the art. Nothingness is impossible. The black canvas portrays one idea, reduced, simplified.

As another example, there is a poem written on a Buddhist temple that is described in Memoirs of a Geisha. The poem is just the word "Loss." There are no words for loss.

Poetry is similar to modern visual art. It's amazing how such simple symbols, these little words, can mean so much. The more simple it seems the more profound something can be. I want to work on writing shorter things. I want to write profound and simple. Something reduced to its core. Almost reduced to nothing. This is a very JD Salinger, very Zen Buddhist idea. Very modern artsy.

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