Poet's Notebook: My poem, "Endless war" followed by commentary

Endless war

my mother
my child
green clay
my way
endless war

storm of gannets
red pine
coated paper
prickly pear
endless war

no words
under the surface
systematists and mountain folk
industries do not require
every kindness
endless war

the sea-unicorn
stretch out your hands
i followed them
everything but the bones
endless war

curtain down
the back way closed
to sting or sooth
endless war

friends forever
turning the sheet down
what i remember
helping a fly recover
that is why
endless war

let me tell you
here it comes
did you insist?
how many died?
try the door
endless war

moving out
upon the wind
make a difference
let me know
when i was you
endless war

left her crying
right at the sign
no charge
jumped at the chance
serves them right
endless war


We are living in a time of perpetual crisis. As a human being, uncertain of what the next moment, hour, day, much less year will bring, I find myself needing to respond on multiple levels — feeling, analyzing, sensing, intuiting, anguishing, dreaming, to name a few. In this poem I am not using a proven structure for the language. Each phrase in each of the 6-line stanzas is a fragment of a thought but the effect of the whole stanza is greater than 6 isolated lines. Every stanza is a unit of meaning that each reader might experience slightly differently. Just for example, in the last stanza, someone might read “left her crying / right at the sign” as “left her crying (right there) at the sign”, and someone else might read it as saying “. . . left her crying. / (Turn) right at the sign.” The possible interpretations are many but not endless. And each stanza ends with the line “endless war”. There are nine stanzas. If there were eight, the cycle would be complete, eight being a number of completion and wholeness (see Jung’s and Von Franz’s lectures on the archetypal fields of natural numbers relative to psychic evolution). In other words I want this poem to read as if it is a fragment of a poem that never ends. It is continuous . . . , an interminable concatenation of stanzas about life overshadowed by war. I also want the stanzas to be experienced as fractals (see *footnote). But to pull this off more successfully I would probably want to repeat “endless” war at more frequent regular intervals. I am not playing a mind-game. What I am trying to capture in this poem is how it feels to me to be living in a world where war is omnipresent as a condition of contemporary every-day reality: not just on Monday or Tuesday, but Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday etc.. Some of the language in the poem is “found” language, like “found” art. It is language that is already saying something. That is, it doesn’t have to be tweaked or inserted into a grammatical harness. Most poems have an internal structure, usually a metaphor or metaphors. Or the concrete form of the poem communicates something fundamental that the reader is able to assimilate or process that feels solid and familiar. This poem, hopefully, walks us outside of that comfort zone.

*fractal: Defined as a curve or geometric figure or pattern, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.

Gary Lindorff