I was thinking, as the weeks have gone by, of the Poetry Symposium that we ran on May 19th. Again and again I keep coming back to seven wonderful moments. So I thought I’d share them.
I have talked elsewhere of Alan John Stubbs’ modesty and great skill. So I wanted to show you an example of this that demonstrates it so well. Alan started his reading on the day of the Symposium with his poem ‘a philosophical provocation’. The tree the poem is written abut is visible from the windows of the Phil and Lit… so you can see how all the stars aligned for this Symposium moment.
I have taken a photograph of the poem (see below). You can enjoy the poem for yourself, of course. But allow me to point out how playful it is itself, in artfully showing how playful the tree is. And then – on top of that – is the way that meaning is not beamed from a extraneous source into our brains ready formed. What we see makes it. What we are makes it. Our history makes it. The object itself makes it. And the humour we are in when we see it makes it. I love the way the poem itself plays with this idea. In fact, our conceptual understanding of the tree changes as the lines develop; more than that, the concept of what a tree is changes. And this is not occurring in a projected, inflated tone – this is on the bedrock of empirical assertion. It is less: ‘I think therefore I am’. It is more: ‘I am because thinking is‘. It is an exposition of thought as a warping thing. You can see the new sentence for yourself at the end – when we trace a thought back to its origins these are the sorts of transformations that it undergoes. If a tree is the processor of light and water – it is the processor of its self. We, the reader, are processing the thought as we are reading it: translating it. How rare is it for a poem to seek to invest its meaning in the transitory nature of perception itself? How rare is it for the form to fit that meaning without being stretched to breaking? There is such tightness of structure here, and carefully considered form; by all means read ‘Free Verse as Formal Constraint’ by Andrew Crozier (no you haven’t), but you’d do better to read Alan’s poem a few more times.
Poets often try to recreate an object for us. Usually there is an quality of loss bound up in that. The thingyness of the thing is so frequently woven into a regret that the thingy is less thingy than it was, or will be less thingy than it should be. But here, in Alan’s poem, is a celebration of thought and change and changing thought as the only truth, or constant, that we can experience. Yes, the door is blind shut at the end; yes we don’t know if it’s lit, but the value of thought, and thinking, provoked by the contemplation of things (and, by extension, our own thinking – not someone else’s given/found interpretation) is the key here. Some poets would give you the tree. Alan gives you the sinewy twists of thought that you try to bring together when you consider the tree. Yes, we cannot by united by some sublime tree truth, but the playful and non-didactic nature of the poem (and all Alan’s work) frees the reader to acknowledge the difficulties of thought. This is as good a poem about meaning and thought as ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’. But then again, ‘this/ is an interpretation’…