Thursday, June 7, 2007

The New Science of Poetry

“Meaning is the extension of the hands of something other: something unimagined.” Science and poetry both search for the essence of truth and existence. For this reason, they have served as a rich store of new ideas for one another from the very first spark of intelligent speech along the path of human evolution. From Shakespeare’s metaphysical “The Phoenix and the Turtle” to Miroslav Holub’s “Brief Reflection on the Theory of Relativity” the poet has utilized the emerging technologies and current theoretical thought of the time to inspire, provoke, and share new insight. The soul of science is an innocent one that along with poetry seeks beauty and harmony.

The connection between science and poetry rests on parallel modes of consciousness. Examining the similarities in thought from a phenomenological perspective, we see how the two modes reveal the ways things are perceived and how perception itself has been altered in both poetry and science. This symbiosis in thought, language, and belief from contemporary Anglophone poetry interacts with several fields of international science.

For example, German scientists and poets both write in German, but the scientific work will be published worldwide in English. The German poets’ work will only be translated if they become famous first. If a German scientist discovers the nature of uncertainty, years later an English-speaking poetry student will be writing an “Ode to Heisenberg” because of what she once read in her high school science book.

The interstices between science and poetry are many and all are possibilities for the poetry of Italo Calvino, Alan Lightman, Al Zolynas, Lavinia Greenlaw, and their peer poets. In this, we see the exchange of ideas through the discussions between science and poetry truly dissolving the once impermeable borders between all nations.

-christine rosakranse

Madness and Genius

If we say that the gentle poet with gentle words is elegant and graceful, but to most invisible, then the big ideas, strange in their newness, must be required to get the attention of the public.

So what is madness? A misfiring of dendrites, creating connections in the brain where none should be or the opening of inspiration’s floodgates? Both. Then genius flows through the "mad" mind for where is writer’s block if no stop-thoughts can exist in your brain? Every place becomes a beginning. The only problem, for some, is that there is no end. Some control of this process has been lost and sleep or medication becomes the only pause.

Now there is also self-imposed madness, in the form of intoxicants, which due to metabolism have shorter durations than forever and ever. Though after long periods of use they may change the map of your brain to permanently alter perception, or to activate some latent psychology, accidentally waking the bipolar or psychotic sleeper in your genes.

The “good” side when considering madness is that there is no internal editor, no person or social restriction to coming up with the most unique perspective of the situation. Why is it that Shakespeare’s most remembered words are those of mad rants? How could he so picturesquely portray madness if he was not just a little more mad than the average man?

The Phenomenology of "Metaphysical Ideas and Scholastical Quiddities" - Poetry Paper

An object in itself is a matter of perception. The same holds true for both words and for their collective amalgamation in poetry. As such, the sphere of meaning inhabited by each word suffers attrition and mutation over time, and so do terms and poems. Phonemes mingle and mash until doh and blog find their way into the OED, and become words. Diametrically opposed to these new formations, many good words have died for lack of use. One word has survived by adding new meanings onto itself like grammatical camouflage in this anti-rhetorical world.
My first recollection of the word metaphysical harkens back to my middle school days. My friend Ariella turned to me in class and said, "My dad cheated on his metaphysics exam… He peeked into his neighbor’s soul." I started cracking up, laughing that uncontrollable laugh that gets you sent out of the room. That was the definition of metaphysical to my young self. With the introduction of the term metaphysical poet, I have rediscovered its original meaning. With a little logic, the two definitions, both in their own way, can be construed as correct. After all, as Merleau-Ponty says, "poetry… is essentially a variety of existence."
When we read or take in any sensory information, our dendrites create chemical pathways. So, any one memory is not stored in a cell, per se, but in a series of connections deep within the brain. This chemically neurological factor will allow for both definitions.
The term metaphysical has undergone a radical ideological transformation in its everyday use since its inception and since it was utilized for poetry and prose writers in the 1600s. The first instance of this term, literally meaning after the physics, is found in the title of Aristotle’s treatise on first principles that followed his work on physics. Later, Samuel Johnson coined the term metaphysical poet in his Life of Cowley, writing, "about the beginning of the seventeenth century appeared a race of writers that may be termed metaphysical poets." He borrowed this term from Dryden, and before Dryden the term was used by Drummond of Hawthornden who wrote of poets who make use of "Metaphysical Ideas and Scholastical Quiddities".
In addition to its root-based and original definition of something "based on speculative or abstract reasoning", the term metaphysical, in the 21st century idiom, also signifies, as in the joke, the immaterial and supernatural. In this paper, I will make the term metaphysical undergo a reclamation of meaning by dissecting the term from a phenomenological perspective, and then sewing it back together by example into its "fine and witty" self.
The simple definition of a metaphysical poem is one marked by conceits. A conceited poem is not one that would have a title like "You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Paper is About You", but one that contains an extended or exaggerated metaphor or simile. In the language of the contemporaries of the 17th century metaphysical poets this poetry was defined by "strong lines." Lines, in this case, mean lines of logic or reasoning, strands of thought that run through the piece, holding it together, as it were, like a sartorial thread.
The reader must unravel the poem. In 1591, Anthony Bacon, when recommending Sir Henry Savile’s translation of Tacitus, extolled Tacitus because he "hath written the most matter with the best conceit in the fewest words of any Historiographer", and followed with "But he is hard. Difilicia quae pulchra; the second reading will please thee more than the first, and the third than the second." The direction of poetry, therefore, became one of "More matter and less words."
With respect to these ancients, the poetry of the time turns denser, more tightly interlaced, and, in most cases, more brief. This concentration of style can be seen in both the poetry of Ben Jonson and of John Donne. One of the more apt descriptions of the style is "sinewy". From the metaphor of the threaded argument, we now turn to a metaphor of exposed musculature. Indeed, the well-written and well-thought out conceits of these poems can be seen as a complex body. In doing so, we can find its "soul". In Maurice Merleai-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, he states, "It is well known that a poem, though it has a superficial meaning translatable into prose, leads, in the reader’s mind, a further existence which makes a poem."
This brings the reader to the second characteristic of metaphysical poetry, its use of conceits. This is where density of words combines with density of thought. A conceit is an extended metaphor or "comparison whose ingenuity is more striking than its justness, or, at least, is more immediately striking."
Long conceits set a task of proving the likeness to the reader. John Donne’s A Valediction: forbidding mourning introduces the conceit of two lovers being a compass, where, in this case, his wife was the fixed foot. This excerpt reveals his conceit:
If they be two, they are two so
As stiffe twin compasses are two,
Thy soule the fixt foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the’other doe.
And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth rome,
It leanes, and hearkens after it,
And growes erect, as it comes home.
Such wilt thou be to mee, who must
Like th’other foot, obliquely runne;
They firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end, where I begunne.
The method of the conceit is obvious, as described by Donne, and quite visual. While the reader must admit the connection between the relationship and the compass, at the same time, the reader will keep in mind the "unlikeness." It is the dual nature of these conceits that allows the term metaphysical to claim its modern meaning. The connection is immaterial, perhaps beyond natural, but quite real, as is represented in the feeling and notions felt by the reader. That which unites the dual meaning is the metaphorical correlation inherent in the metaphysical poetry.
But this knowledge must be worked out. In the words of Dame Helen Gardner, "It does not attempt to attract the lazy and its lovers have always a certain sense of being in a privileged class, able to enjoy what is beyond the reach of vulgar wits." In a phenomenological way, the conceit hits home in a more deserved manner.
Neurologically, the chemical pathways in the brain that determine memory are more rigorously utilized while reading metaphysical poetry, and, in the case of repeated readings, the pathways are continually redefined. Therefore, the memory is more permanent. The moment of "aha," more sublime. These poems use language in such a way that "the existential modulation, instead of being dissipated at the very instant of its expression, finds in poetic art a means of making itself eternal." It is this characteristic, as reflected and magnified by the seventeenth century metaphysical poets, that allows both definitions of metaphysical to be used in its description.

First Poetic Response: Omar Khayyam

The road to Khayyam started with Forough Farokhzad. She was an Iranian poet writing in the sixties, who changed the face of Persian poetry by adding the one aspect that had been missing for 2500 years: the female voice. Unfortunately, she died rather young but her works still echoes its peace-seeking refrains through all of the Middle East.
Looking at her influences, I saw that of Omar Khayyam, a mathematician/poet of the late 11th century. He died in 1123 AD. According to Paramhansa Yogananda, from a relatively young age he was allotted a pension from Sultan Malik Shah that allowed him to devote himself to scientific and literary pursuits.
He was a Sufi mystic. "His ‘theology’ was no reasoned system, but encompassed all religions as well as no religion – that is to say, though he loved God, he embraced no formal religion.
The book I have is translated by Edward Fitzgerald, English poet and translator, born 1809, died 1883. The first translation was not well received until the poet Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Swinburne touted it. "Omar offers a delightful alternative: the nectar of divine ecstasy, which leads to diving enlightenment, thereby obliterating human woe permanently."
His greatest work was "The Rubaiyat" or The Quatrains. Of these, I will relate a few of my favorites:
{46} For in and out, above, about, below
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom figures come and go.
Commentary: This quatrain directly questions the nature of reality. The everyday we take for granted is but a shadow aspect of the true nature of the universe. The delicacy of style renders the reader wholly incapable of feigning disdain.
{45} But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which make as much of Thee
Commentary: Awesome!! The "Wise" are but those that think themselves so. No one should take things seriously because not only is life but a "Hubbub", we are the game-players, too.
These translations are easily read for they rhyme as did the originals, but they also take a lifetime to unravel. These are but two of my very favorites, and ones that I believe everyone should be aware of. The others include many more metaphorical references as to the nature of creation. The sixty-plus quatrains each shed light on some aspect of the human condition. For this, Omar Khayyam must be commended.

We Live in Interesting Times

When my brother came back from the first Gulf War, he slept with his eyes open. And you did not sneak up on him, under any circumstance. He had been on the front line, first troop into Kuwait, with a few "kills" under his belt. Though he had never seen the faces of those that he had killed, shooting them in the dark from a good distance, he had killed. And when he came back, he was a little different. More religious. More hard. And very cautious.
I know (gods willing and the creek don’t rise) that I will (probably) never have to kill a man, but if I do, I know that I wouldn’t want to see his face while I do it. I am not humanly evolved enough to lay down my life without a fight, and not medically informed enough to just wound a man instead of going for the kill shot. And that is the nature of war. My brother never saw the faces of the men he killed, but imagine if he had. What dreams would he have then? What if he had killed an innocent in the line of fire? Would he think it an acceptable loss?
We, the civilians, cannot possibly understand the horrors of war or even the brainwashing involved when the new recruits go through boot camp. They are reduced to cogs, called maggots and dirt, not even good enough to die for their country. Then they are built back up, made honorable by duty and medals and hardship and brotherhood. Then they are good enough to die. They are never told that they are good enough to live. The Armed Forces of the United States is a factory devoted to making killing machines, and a killing machine must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. By the time a soldier gets to the frontline, he is not the same little boy that had gone into the military straight out of high school in order to get the scholarship for college. He is a tool, a deadly weapon, a bomb.
They are told that they are killing for their country, and they are dying for an ideal.
I could write a poem about the atrocities of war, and before I was done I would have used every image I could think of to describe suffering and pain. I would run out of words for blood and flesh. I would run out of ways to describe the screams of mothers and babies. And when I was done, I would have nightmares. Terrible nightmares, but they would be tame compared to the reality of being in a kill or be killed scenario.
There are atrocities in the world that I will never experience. Terrible mutilations and sacrifices in the name of war that I will never have to bear witness to. No one should. Life is sacred. On the individual level, we must be willing to die, to be killed, rather than kill, but that is not in our programming. We are wired for survival. And this is the string that the generals and presidents pull to have an army.
As a nation, it is easy to go to war. The body of the machine is made of men, just millions of cells ready to die, programmed to find death glorious, death from above or death at the hands of a voracious enemy. The thousands of white gravestones at the military cemeteries are supposed to provide comfort to the family. Your son or daughter was one of many to die for their country, the silent stones say. What is one cell in a great body? That we have war at all is the fault of the brain.
Our current government heads are myopic and dim-witted. The president does not know the meaning of his own words. Take for instance the word necessary, which means required and needed. This would mean no other option, but War is not Necessary. War is Obsolete. However, the brain of the machine is rusted and rotten. It keeps forgetting. It will not listen. How do we relate this terror to someone who will not listen? To an entire government that refuses to listen?

"A Kleptomaniac of the Mind" - Poetry Paper

On Marianne Moore’s explication of the everyday in its interconnected reality

Marianne Moore drew poetic inspiration from every source available to her, filling her many notebooks with "random" sayings, odd facts, curious details, and scientific truths. She had an excitement for the reality of the everyday, and brought these revelations to the fore in her poetry. One of her many leitmotifs is the question of the subjective versus the objective, questioning where the poet ends and the observation begins. This paper will focus on the scientific and analytical inspiration behind Moore’s poetry in a manner that will reveal (with examples from the poem "An Octopus") an evolution of thought behind Moore’s work, developing her poetry into "observations."
Upon reading the first stanza of the poem "An Octopus", we come across an octopus of ice, the nature of which is revealed to us as one of deception based on falsity. It is "deceptively reserved and flat" with "pseudo-podia" or fake feet. It is an "invention" by definition, something which is written of and exists only in reference to the poem. Further relating the speciousness of the octopus we have that, although it is in some places five hundred feet thick, it is of "unimagined delicacy" "misleadingly like lace."
Moore is, of course, relating much more information to the reader than a simple description of a scene, real or imagined. She is expressing her own questioning nature and that of any justly poetic work. In the process of relation and description, the poet utilizes metaphor and other literary devices, much like a scientist must when explaining phenomenon. However, for Moore, problems of semantics arise, explosive as a volcano. We are attacked by what Costello refers to as "particularity of a nonpoetic nature [that] overwhelms association."
The trap is set for the logician/reader. The question evolves as to the true nature of something which cannot necessarily be well-defined. What happens to the reader and poet alike when faced with the problem of subjective discourse?
"Completing a circle,/ you have been deceived." The reader has been reading along, following the chain of logic, when the poet informs the reader that they have been fooled. "You have not progressed at all," she says. It was only a circle, as are all chains of logic that may be connected beginning to end.
She develops the image of "The Goat’s Mirror" for its false reflection. Through this, the poem states one of the problems that surfaces when writing poetry, that in pointing out one fact, conversely, the writer must leave out others. One develops prejudices, perhaps for beauty, or in the case of this writer, for exactness.
The list of elements located in the first section beginning with "vermilion and onyx" is now revealed to be incomplete. Reading further into the structure of the mountain, there is wondrous life, but "concealed in the confusion." We are still dealing with a verisimilitude of an environment with its "waterfall that never seems to fall." After this, we have a confession that seems to come directly from the poet, the true "fear of being stoned as an impostor." Can the reader be "happy seeing nothing?"
It is never truly known to a writer if the audience of the poem gets every little detail and is able to put it together in their minds in the same way that the poet intended. Doubt rules. She returns to fear, but does not get wedged into this needling idea, instead comparing this situation with a similar one faced by Henry James. The poems corrects itself with the line "not decorum, but restraint" which is, to her, the quality required for writing with this type of exactness with relation to the inherent subjectivity of the writing process.
At one end of the spectrum we have every fact and every nuance of existence, including the darkness of the soul, crime and excess. Marianne Moore does not include certain aspects of the scene. In fact, critics argue that she was polite to the point of prudishness, that "there is no sexuality" in the poetry of Marianne Moore. To both sides, she is "first and last a proper lady." But there is science and like science, she evades the crude and improper. She almost says, "Let’s take the fact of it up an octave," bringing the art of exactness in poetry to a celestial level. She espouses "Relentless accuracy" through the "octopus/with its capacity for fact."
Grace Shulmen relates this philosophy of Moore: "set forth in "Poetry" and reiterated throughout her work, the artist may never attain ideal perception, or "the genuine," but it is all in the trying." In the end, we ask ourselves if Marianne Moore did achieve "Neatness of finish!" Knowing the eye would dissect the last lines for exactness, she carefully chose and placed each word with, yes, neatness. She is nice, as in precise.
From the great to the little, we small humans as readers are placed in direct contrast to the grandeur of the mountain of poetry, in its wide-reaching scope and voluminous sources of inspiration. In a poem where each word is a gem itself, and the related imagery goes far beyond the readers’ eyes, Moore does indeed help us to realize "the humanized sublime" with her observational dialectics.
Costello, Bonnie. Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possession. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.
Shulman, Grace. Marianne Moore: The Poetry of Engagement. New York: Paragon House, 1989.
Title from: the class reader, MM and the 17th Century Prose

An Information Architectural Destiny

We hold these truths to be self-evident, which means obvious.
That everything is Everything being connected to everything else…that in fact, there is nothing else, but that everything requires some definition.
A list of definitions will help the matter of is-ness. We define in two ways. Saying what something is and saying what something is not.

Sometimes the lines are ambiguous, but ultimately decisions are made and these each have a ripple effect into other realms of society.

For example, Where do YOU end?
Your fingers, maybe, and your toes. And your hair, at those split ends are you split? Perhaps that’s your answer. And that’s it.
Well, what about your stomach? It’s inside you, right. The food inside it, that came from outside of you, through digestion becomes you, your muscles, your blood. So sometimes you are food. And your lungs occupy the inside of your chest, right. And the air inside them, that came from outside of you, through the alveoli enters your bloodstream. So sometimes you are air.

So where do you end? At the skin? Don’t be silly. What about the air and the food and the drink and whatever else that was?

Or maybe you are like Superman’s outfit, magically indestructible because it was within one centimeter of his body. Do you end one centimeter from your body?
Does the idea that "Any part of you can be taken out of you" scare you? Maybe you’ll say that they can’t take my heart, but you know that’s wrong even before you say it. The heart is an organ with a plastic equivalent. Oh, but they can’t take out your brain and replace it with a new one. Nope, not yet. They can take out most pieces though. Are you a brain stem?
So you are a little self inside of the Big Es Self.

We want to know "How do actions affect the world from the one-person reality?"

My belief is as follows: The way to happiness is (and we all want to be happy, even if your happiness is monastic) BEING fully conscious of circumstance. No man is an island. Let’s say being happy to you, in the small sense, is (the American dream): a family, a car, a home, and money enough to secure food and all the necessities. More specifically, you would want a happy family, a happy home, a happy car, and happy money. Why? Could you be happy when your spouse is crying or your children are screaming? If that is your happiness, then please throw this away and don’t tell anyone about it. In fact, please shut yourself in a cave somewhere, for my sake. Make me happy.
So happiness in the general locale of your being is important for you to be happy. Well, then everything sort of echoes out like rings in a pond and for the people around those other people to be happy, then the people around them have to be happy. And so on. You’ve seen the opposite happen everyday. Some coworker is cut off in traffic while driving to work. So, he’s pissy and takes it out on the secretary when she walks in. Then she sends out an e-mail about how crappy Bob is with a funny photoshopped picture of Bob at the company picnic with devil horns. Then someone ccs it to Bob and he goes home and beats his wife, who slaps the kids, who kick the dog. Happens every day.

Treat your fellow human brother like your arm, like an organ because he is a part of you. And also, something that is not you.