Monday, July 22, 2013

Sudden Influences

Is it only when a poet is young that influence happens like lightning? Does a co-arising of health, hormones and a brain that has not yet thought itself into deep ruts make possible illumination in a few words encountered at random? Because the following words chanced upon in browsing books on separate occasions definitely changed one young poet's life.

And the hunter, who believed
whatever struggles
begs to be torn apart:

that part is paralyzed.
          --Louise Glück, "Liberation"

As long as this evening lasts,
I am going to walk all through and around
the Temple of Diana.
         --James Wright, "Entering the Temple at Nîmes"

We do not need to know why, in the instance of each reading, the young poet felt a jolt between his eyes followed by a calm, swimming sensation. Initially each experience partook of more of the pathological than of the inspirational, and these events tend toward the idiosyncratic and the irreproducible, but we have already asked the question: "When does this happen?" And in asking we have already assumed it to be a general event, one that defines a community of the inspired, those who have reeled at the impact of a few isolated words. And we add this case now of a young man browsing books in a store in Iowa in the late 1980s.

The long-term effects were simple enough. In the first case the poet knew from then on out that clarity itself was a proper vehicle for the poetic. In the second case he knew how the poem could express, if not actually contain, a sense of wonder that can make life worth living. If we care for arguments, systems of values, a thoroughly diagrammable mechanism of transmission from the poems to the young poet who was their audience, we must remain disappointed. There is nothing in their words now or in the description of their having been read that will satisfy our question. The words of poetry come divorced from the context of the poems in which they appear, now as they did then, though they might be said to appear in the context of poetry in general. Our poet-reader appears out of the context of his life but within the context of other poets who read and are excitable. We have asked a question that arrives with facts, but we sense no satisfactory answer in the form of further facts. In a situation like this we have to ask another question.

What anxiety led us to ask our question about sudden inspiration in the first place? The question isn't really about causes but about repeatability and about speed. Time has passed since those days of inspiration. We are in a hurry. And tonight won't we find satisfaction in so much less than lightning?  We'll settle for less total inspiration because the question and its precursor anxiety derived from desolation. We are desperate. A drop of water counts for more today than lightning did yesterday. We hope to provide matured skill and a strength that amplifies value through our steady application of work.

In the end--and we know there's an end even if we don't know where it lies--it was the fact that inspiration happened at all that counts, and we lived to see just how brightly those moments blaze, even if we cannot approach them in the past as they happened or in the future as they have not. We cannot move or analyze anymore, nor do we particularly care to. It is that part of a summer evening when it has just turned cool.

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