The flowers in the bowl (a Covid poem)followed by a reflection on the writing of this poem

The flowers are in the bowl
Because they caught on the mower
I felt bad for them
And placed them in the bowl
In a little water
This world is going to hell
He said I know listen read this
Don’t go to hell I said
Too late he said
After I read what he said
You write too many words
I don’t like all your words
Fuck you what kind of friend would say that
Pitiful I thought so that’s it?
And I looked at the flowers
In the little bowl and thought
I thought about life and
Friendship and how fragile
We all are and then
I had to think about something else
And now I’m not sure what to think
What the???
My brother read this poem and wrote: “There’s a fine line between being clever and being simply confusing. This poem, to me, doesn’t make sense because there’s no way to tell where what one person says stops and another begins. The point, and I’m sure there is one, gets lost.” Let’s assume that the point is the subject. What is the subject or the point? Maybe the subject / point is how two men have lost their standpoint in an angry exchange. They have lost their individuality. Who is talking? This poem doesn’t make any sense. Two men are having a spat and they may lose the friendship! At the same time, the flower has been torn off the plant by a mower. Maybe the mower is their anger. Placing the flowers in a bowl is an attempt to salvage the friendship. . . Maybe. That is one interpretation. The conversation, and who says what, is not important. Whether the reader can remember something similar happening, when anger clouded everything( including any attempt to recall who said what!), . . . that is important.

English is a dualistic language. It divides units of communication into subject and object. “I am writing this reflection.” Subject (I), object (reflection). Writing is the verb. What if I said: “I am this reflection.”? Even if that is a stretch, I would still be the subject and reflection, the object. (I would be both subject and object.) This structuring of thought is very limiting. Were we born to see everything that way?

The first time I wrote a story, a chapter book to be more accurate (age 5?), I was so immersed in the creative act, I think the story was more real than little me. I was inside the story, lost in it, gone in it. “I” was not all that important. In succeeding years “I” became increasingly important, to me. And my culture more or less encouraged that. “I” was the eternal subject.

I eventually learned that some languages do not differentiate between subject and object. (By the way, the way they get you to buy a new car is to get in it, smell that new smell, take it “for a spin”. That breaks down the hierarchy of subject / object. Pretty smart.)

I’m going to make this explanation as simple as possible: In English it is very hard to get away from subject / verb / object or subject / object / verb. But poetry is a different animal than prose. If prose is a mammal, poetry is a marsupial. It walks, swims, has fur and lays eggs . . . sometimes it even flies.

Poetry (ancient Greek: ποιεω (poieo) = I create) is an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content. In other words, poetry is not sucking up to semantics (which has to do with the meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text), it is about aesthetics. Aesthetics serve artistic perception or the artistic senses. A huge misconception in comprehending the value of art, is that art is (about) beauty.That is not correct. It is serving whatever feeds artistic sensibility, which evolves and changes, much faster than semantic and conventional notions of beauty.

Poetry is the art of language, and the only “structure” that cleaves to all poetry, is metaphor. (Don’t get me started.) By metaphor I do not mean what I learned in school. School almost killed my poetic / artistic sensibility. While I was learning to be a good writer, my precocious poetic sensibility was languishing because I was straddling my English teachers’ text book definition of metaphor and what I was beginning to grok about metaphor by reading Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings and John Ashberry and Merwin just to name a few. Oh, I fought it! I fought my own evolution, trying to write like Wordsworth and even (smoke-and-mirrors) Dylan Thomas who was just as stuck as any of the old school but he was just good at throwing adjectives around. At the same time that I was reading Auden and Robert Lowell, Ashberry would write: “And hiding from darkness in barns / They can be grownups now / And the murderer’s ash tray is more easily — / The lake a lilac cube.” Huh? Who is they? Why did he break up the word “ashtray”? Why does he sort of but not quite end the third line with an Emily Dickenson dash, and how can the lake be a “lilac cube” unless he is not talking about a lake . . . It honestly did not occur to me that he might be trying to confuse. No, he was onto something. (Thanks to Ashberry and the great beat poets like Ginsburg) my poetic sensibility was firing up as early as 10th grade and I “graduated” from high school grammar long before I officially graduated.)

Then there is a long, long chapter of how I dropped the poetic thread because I began to separate myself (as subject) from my disaster-of-a-country (object). I became politicized and got lost in a universe of the immoral them or they VS (angry conscientious pacifist) me. I picked up that thread when I was around 50, when my wife (of my second marriage) gave me a book of Rumi and I realized that poetry did not have to be self-centered! Ten years later Merwin died, which put him back on my radar (bless his soul): (Merwin:) “I inhabited the sound of hope walking on water”. . . Well, here there is a subject and an object and a verb but, see, what he is doing is granting hope enough substance or materiality to be able to walk, but he is saying it is both silent and weightless, so it is real but it is also a lot like a spirit . . . If that isn’t confusing enough he is saying that he is “inhabiting” this (soundless) sound of hope walking that isn’t really a sound at all but an image! . . . This is what a great poet does, he or she steals the fire of language from convention where it is smoldering, re-ignites its spirit and runs with this flame of language like an Olympic relay racer, as fast as possible to the hand-off point where they hand it off to the next runner.

That is what a poet worth their salt does.