I believe you do know how to write with subtle clarity without losing your inner abstract, your core, your tap root. Don't make your poem a tree without the leaves. Don't go out into the world dressed in the Emperor's New Clothes. What does that mean? Let's investigate.
Hair-splitting explicitness is the way of philosophers. Follow Lorca who has said a poet must be a "professor of the bodily senses". Poetry is the whole seed, whereas philosophy has had the sensory nourishment polished away. The poem embodies an experience that speaks to the reader through a visceral sweep of intense sense-charged language. The philosopher delivers interesting but dry intellectual propositions.
If you are new at the poet's game you may confuse the two because your abstract feelings are your paradox, your heart-story. Such emotions need to be born into the world of earth, air, fire and water as breathing objects that carry your unseen essence. What you write comes out like vapour because you have yet to connect inner and outer matter, space and time together. You are the medium, the translator, the sensory bridge. You feel the need to transform chimeras of consciousness into cups of poetry that can hold and pass on pure water.
Why bother? Because it is the poet's nature to clarify what is difficult and in doing so you fulfill a function for others who may read, hear and understand. This only works if you have studied the arts of comparisons, the science of sonics and the grammar of the poetic line. Then you can be like Leonardo who put all his journal thoughts down in back-to-front mirror language so that one day the right people would understand them. Like him you must become a forensic observer of the nature world. Through design engineering and art, he wanted to reveal the relationships between things, just as Fibbonaci read the same natural world as a code of numbers. Poetry is that back-to-front mirror talk and its poetic form is a set of Fibbonaci relationships. And it is not detached. It has utility and weight and purpose.
Even if we believe writing poetry is akin to the arcane art of incantation and magic one still aims to be understood by the being a shaman is incanting to so that it will rain on time, or the baby is born without complication. It's all specfic and goal-oriented. There is a target audience big or small. Surely there is no dispute about this. That is why I don't believe we write for ourselves only. I have a poet friend shy of publication who nevertheless wants to leave a body of work for her family members. Though a modest person she still she wants others to understand what she felt but never expressed openly. The best poetry encapsulates/inshrines this more so than any other linguistic medium. It is direct as a split-tailed hawk and meandering as cornflower butterfly, yet always reaches its destination.
Of course there are many species of poetry on the spectrum -- from the most didactically explicit to the gnomically obscure. This is different from the imprecise utterance that has not been properly born. Most new poets struggle to ground their inner abstract in a common speech. They react to their inside story and present their gestating thoughts in an ill-formed manner.
On another note, I think much so-called experimental poetry bares little correlation to the common world as well. It has forgotten its Fibbonaci code and subverts the 'indirect clarity' of back-to-front mirror-poetry with conscious road blocks of meaning by turning experimentation into a fetish. Lacking life-content, it hides this fact through a screen of clever obfuscation. Such technique-driven writers are suffering under the delusion of the Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome, where courtiers fool audiences with a received belief that their emperor-poet is not naked and instead dressed in gold finery. I have seen and heard a lot of this, visiting from time to time my university department and much is written by those occupying high positions and are winners of prestigious awards. They keep on amassing more power and authority by supporting each other through reviewing and peer acknowledgment as paid up members of The Emperor's New Clothes Poetry Club. That is what I call it. This is because poets live in a polemically poisoned pond of their own making that has been isolated from the main river dis/course. Poets did this to themselves. Now hermetically-sealed poets dialogue with other poets in the name of experimental amusement. It has become a game of over-educated creative minds without real audiences. They even look down on such and fulfill their own belief in the beauty of obscurantism. That is why page poets can't get on with poetry slammers. And vice versa. They are two ends of the same spectrum. That's all. Extreme sensibilities. Today's poet slammers fall back position is a hip and topical form of rhetorical didacticism, whereas the poets who write without an ear for public-speak choose distorted discourse only they can understand. This is not Leonardo mirror-reversal. His writing has perfect clarity once the convention is understood. That convention is an understanding of metaphor as a mirror device to say one thing and mean another and its target audience is a common world, not an overly specialist one.
I say there has to be a bridge built from the pond back to the river. Or are we just to remain unseen and unheard? Frog-croaking to ourselves? Emily Dickinson might say otherwise:
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
I think her case is genuinely different. She never sought attention in her lifetime. Her discourse was with her self, although the fact that her poetry survives is perhaps a testament to the desire to be read and appreciated in the long run. If that was not the case she would have burned each page of manuscript as she wrote it. 'Experimental' poetry is designed to be read and taken seriously by a like-minded coterie. This best has always tried to challenge accepted norms of writing. This is a true function, however much has descended into copycat repetition of past modernist/post-modernist advances and pretends to be the Emperor's new clothes still. My view is use all of poetry's technical abilities - formal and free where appropriate. But form as a subject needs to be welded to content. It must say something to others who share a common language.
One last thing. To name the frog is to own the frog. Frog power! Naming is incantation. Naming has nothing to do with abstraction and everything to do with concrete crystallisation of forms - bringing the arcane and obscure into the light. Isn't that what we do? Isn't that poetry?
Geoff Page points to this problem endemic to contemporary poetry while reviewing a new book in The Australian (26/7/14) The Shapes of Light by Ian McFarlane. In the poem Playing Safe, he has written:
The two great certainties of postmodernism/ are adoration of the obscure,/ and contempt for coherence. Some poets fear clarity as a politician fears honesty.”
According to Page "By the poem’s end Macfarlane is even more angry:
It’s easy to sound clever / when no one — least of all yourself — / knows what the f..k you’re on about.”
As Page also reflects, these are hardly very poetically-wrought lines, yet they do express one end of the spectrum of the problem described above.
Ian McFarlane answers:
"I usually don't bother with the internet and have only just noticed this website. The book, The Shapes of Light, is mine, and the Oz review by Geoff Page was a cruel and calculated "slap down" - a payback for my "Emperor's New Clothes" doubts about contemporary poetry expressed over many years in my work as a critic, essayist and award winning fiction and non-fiction writer. The poem you quoted from above is only one of over 120 contained in the book, and I suggest you read a few more, including the Preface (based on an ALR essay). Of course, Geoff Page deliberately ignores the Preface to suit his own purposes, since it contains my true "position" on poetry, rather than the one Geoff presumes me to have. My poems on clinical depression, politics, social justice and the environment, have won wide-ranging praise, but Geoff side-steps them in a condescendingly, and offensively, snide manner, as he "plays the man rather than the ball" by reviewing my supposed "position" on poetry, rather than my poetry."
email to Chris Mooney-Singh, 28 8 14