A Craving for “Poemness”
I’ve been reading Andrei Codrescu’s A Craving for Swan, specifically, a short piece of lyrical prose called “Bear with Me” that questions how much “bearness” remains within the black fur and red sinews of the twentieth century bear. Codrescu expands upon Soviet writer Andrei Bitov’s question: “Isn’t It strange that we make more and more books with fairy tales and pictures about wild rabbits and wolves and foxes, and that we make fish and reindeer and teddy bears out of rubber . . . [that our] children already live in a world where there are thousands of times more toy animals than there are animal animals.” It all makes me wonder how much “poemness” the twenty-first century poem delivers.
At the risk of sounding reactionary, sometimes late at night, plagued equally by fatigue and restlessness, I worry that there’s not much poem left to our poems. I long for that encounter with a stanza that arrives dressed in its blue collared oil-change shirt or even its Walmart smock, a stanza that has watched Jerry Springer once too often, that might share a place in our collective consciousness with some jive Avengers sequel, but a stanza that somehow, in its own unique post-post modern way sings, Oh “Westron wind, when wilt thou blow / The small raine down can raine.”
An unrepentant Platonist at heart, I have to admit that I feature poetry as being out there, out with the wind and rain. In a 1976 interview in Skywriting, the late Russell Edson gets at where poetry just might be: “If the image can stand on its own, then you’ve externalized it. But there are poets, I’m not going to mention any names now, whose very painful poetry seems to depend on their existence.” I like how complex the notion is, what might stand, who might notice, and that process only hinted at by the verb “to externalize.”