It is hard to say how a poem takes shape as it travels along the track from conception of idea to final form. A look into the process can be, if your not inclined too, or in contact with, an orthodox view of human nature: a harrowing. Even just a short survey of what I call “World War Poetry” elucidates this kind of experience, for the voices of that age have retraced for us the tank tracks leading back to its germination. That is not meant to be a play on words; I would never blame one nation for the evil in the world. To do so would be to draw an unpardonable connection to the Kaiser and the apple of Eden. It is the corruption of a philosophy that begets evil, a philosophy that deviates toward autonomy and gathers power, a philosophy which even the minorly selfish can fall prey too. I do not wish, within this short introduction, to trace those tread marks in the mud all the way back to antiquity, rather, I wish to hold up in the bunker of a War divided era and construct a refuge. Auden, Milosz, and Eliot, are the first names chiseled into the memorial of this period. There are others, yes, but among Europeans they stand as literature’s strongest protest against the governing philosophy of a world in exile. Bleak, at best, is the light within their work. If the poetry they give us is dark, it is so because the source of light from which it comes is too bright for an unstable age to handle. It is maybe not humble of me to believe I can stand at the barricade with them, these Nobel caliber men, but the courage of their voices is inviting and I intend to join them. I may attempt to be irreligious, to lay brick upon the scaffolding they have helped to erect, but, like them, I assent to the experience that a tower that man alone builds will be nothing but a blind skyscraper. In the following poem I cross easily into religious symbol. That, however, is not the territory I wish to cover. I desire to remain concrete, incarnational, abstract only in the sense that the mystery must remain, not out of ambiguity, but necessity. I picture Milosz, Auden, and Eliot before me; or, if you prefer, imagine those of the highest ranks who draw you in, who call you up. These men are not gods, nor is the person you more regularly fall on your knees before; they are names. Names leading you onward to the name that refuses to be named.
Having Crossed The Barbwire
I look you in the eye.
From down here the diamond
Shape of your jawbone
Rests irretrievably beyond
My understanding; your throat,
the muscle that straightens your spine,
As if it exists peremptory
Of the utterances, handled like wet clay,
Hoists words and loads them
Between the chamber of tendons.
Although you say nothing,
my wrist divines beauty
In the absolute contact
Of your crushing grip.
As if to start where the last of us left off,
Me, I refuse to apologize for the revolt;
For poetry, for choosing the door
That followed you into the dark.
Even now, an echo of lament
Can be heard returning faithfully
To the frost on your lip,
Gathers like sunlight
on the shield of a gaping rock
In the frozen river; cavernous mouth
Holding the fire long enough
For a vapor of meaning
To startle the air and disappear:
“Stand,” you say.
“We are glad you have joined us.”
I welcome your thoughts