Who does not cringe a little when they read the following sentences:
Yeah, I blog about poetry.
You guys, check out these poems on my blog!
A poem on a blog.
Remember xanga? Yeah… My problem is mostly with the word blog. It trivializes the act of writing. It leaves a foul taste in the mouth. In my native midwesterner, the o becomes more of a long a, as in blahg, blaaahg, blah blah blahg. It’s repulsively onomatopoetic. It sounds like a wet burp. It sounds like slop in a bog. It sounds like a fetid hole where things that were once alive have crawled off to decompose.
We writers are both the benefactors and the victims of the democratization of the publishing process, and the accompanying mediocrity that pervades the internet. Any jagoff (read: me) can buy a url from godaddy with integrated wordpress support and begin to blog their guts out all over it. It’s not that hard.
And yet despite the general mundanity of the blogosphere, in the midst of insipid buzzfeed lists and mind-numbing quasi-political rhetoric from all sides, the word has not lost its power. We sometimes forget this. I know I do. This entire project is, in part, a reminder to myself that these things can still mean stuff.
Like moments, words are not sacred until somehow suddenly they are, the very fabric of them imbued with a kind of immediacy, an inexplicable presence that is significance, that biochemical shiver of truth down your spine.
There’s no telling when and how this sacredness will be triggered. Fred Meyer prints a poem on the paper bags they provide next to their mushroom display in the produce section. I saved one of the bags years ago because I like the poem so much. I have it hanging on my wall still. Pardon the spacing:
They will breathe
better and stay
Handle them with
easily. In the
them to stay
I remember in my formative years sitting on a hill after having eaten a bunch of mushrooms, these ones not criminis or buttons, and I was feeling this inexpressible anxiety bubble up in my chest until all of a sudden I saw that the grass was green with life and I could watch the wind swelling through the valley by watching the tops of the trees, how they swayed together in fluid waves, like whitecaps across a river or a bird ruffling its neck feathers, and as it so happened there was a bird down there, there were many birds, I saw, wheeling in the thermals.
I tried to vocalize this feeling to my buddy Pete, who was sitting there with me.
It’s like the thing I was waiting for was happening around us the whole time, I said.
Say that again, he said. Say what you just said again.
And I could not, because I was quite high, and had come to the conclusion that my pathetic attempts at language were laughably incapable of communicating the magnitude of the realization that was my being in that place, at that time.
I often feel similarly when I watch people trying to photograph a sunset or record a concert with their cell phone. Granted, phone camera technology is pretty incredible these days, and you’ve gotta flex on instagram if you wanna go anywhere in life, but there’s no way you’ll ever come close to capturing the depth and breadth of what is happening around you.
The answer to my objection is this: well, I wasn’t trying to capture everything happening around me. I wanted specifically to crop out that awkward sweaty guy dancing over there, to only get the band, haloed in lights. I was going to fuck with the contrast and saturation, maybe throw on a filter to make that little patch of sky glow fluorescent shades of periwinkle and magenta over the silhouette of the horizon.
One might argue that this act of selective revision is what constitutes art in the first place. To pick this image and not that, to choose these words and not all of the others.
Let me backtrack for a moment and ask you this: what makes the poem on the mushroom bag a poem, and not just instructions for storing mushrooms? Well, it’s both, but it’s a poem because of the rhythm. Rhythm on the page is dictated by line breaks. They are an example of that act of selection and revision, their function being the physical emphasis (and de-emphasis) of important moments in the language.
They will breathe breathes life into the mushrooms. It’s an incredible opener, especially for a grocery bag. There’s a musical quality to the refrain: firmer, longer…fresher, longer. These lines are instructions for storing mushrooms, but they are also a poem about the act of preservation, about fragility and how to package things so they keep well.
It turns out that it’s quite difficult to format poems within the wordpress theme I use for The What. The problem is that line breaks are important in written poetry, and websites that resize the text depending on the size of the screen don’t really care about all that. I was in there playing with the html, feeling like a nursing intern ushered into the O.R. to perform a delicate brain surgery, and then I got to thinking.
What if I were to try and re-objectify the page by linking you to a scanned image of a handwritten poem? It’s an artifice, I’ll admit it, but all form is artifice. Also, it’s much easier than redesigning the whole site. And as a bonus, there is a degree of intimacy in trying to read somebody’s handwriting that has become rather rare of late.
Then I thought of another, better solution. Even beyond the form of the written word there lies a more elemental form of language that is the sound image, the spoken word. For me, language is most powerful when it’s vocalized. This is why most of my favorite poets these days are rappers, because rapping is reciting, and to recite is to subvert the artifice of the page in favor of that most organically present of all mediums, the human voice.
Talal Gedeon Achi has graciously provided us with two poems, which he has written out and recorded. You will find them below. You’ll have to open them up, but that’s kinda what poetry is about. Before you do, let me say this:
Most people read things, especially online things, by skimming, by gulping down sentences, paragraphs even, by swallowing them whole, without once chewing. I invite you here, now, to not do that. It’s terrible for your digestive tract. I have an early memory of my great grandmother telling me it was good manners to chew my food one hundred times before swallowing. That’s probably overkill, but I like the sentiment. When you’re reading poems on The What, don’t forget to chew.
Poems should be tasted, savored. Poems should be read out loud, even when you’re alone. Poems should be sung to yourself in crescendos and cadenzas, so that you might hear their music in the timbre of your own voice. You should take poems into your mouth, hold them like smoke in your lungs before breathing them out, until you start to feel them working behind your eyes, until their contours feel as familiar to you as your own tongue.
As promised, here are two poems by Talal Gedeon Achi.
You will have to open these for yourself.