Friday, December 17, 2004

On Poetry

Turning back to my first artistic love and the art form I practice.

My very dear friend Naomi recently gave me a copy of Modern French Poets, edited by Wallace Fowlie. It's an excellent introduction to some poets not well known in this country. I don't know if it's in print; she found it in a second-hand shop. It's worth seeking out.

One of the poets included is Jean Cocteau. In his section I found a remarkable statement about the nature of the poet's work which I would like to excerpt here. It articulates beautifully my own belief about the nature and function of poetry, at least as I practice it.

"Do you know the surprise of finding yourself suddenly facing your own name as if it belonged to someone else, seeing its form and hearing the sound of its syllables without the blind and deaf habit which a long intimacy provides?
"The same phenomenon can take place for an object or an animal. In a flash we see a dog, a cab, a house for the first time. What is special, mad, ridiculous, beautiful in them is overwhelming. But immediately afterwards, habit rubs out this powerful image with its eraser. We pat the dog, hail the cab, inhabit the house. We don't see them any more.
"That is the role of poetry. It unveils, in the full meaning of the term. It strips bare, under a light which shatters out indifference, the surprising things around us which our senses register automatically....
"Put a commonplace in place, clean it, rub it, light it so that it will give forth with its youth and freshness the same purity it had at the beginning, and you will be doing the work of a poet.
"The rest is literature."
–from Le Secret Professionel


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