Sunday, December 14, 2008
Thinking Again: Original Mission Statement
In June 2006 I began the notebook of reflections that eventually turned into this blog. At the time I had no intention of doing a blog. In fact the original goal of the notebook had to do with processes of thinking on my part that were perhaps best left as private reflections.
Living in North County San Diego, having few people to discuss poetry with after years of constant conversation in Washington, DC, I began to be more attracted to the idea of creating a blog that I could use as a forum for conversation and as a way for me to generate writing. And I feel like it has been a helpful experience for me.
Below, I’m pasting the first notebook entry, from June 13, 2006. Obviously, this blog has become something very different than the notebook I was imagining at the time, and this piece wasn’t written with the idea of putting it online. Nonetheless I think this first entry still captures some of the spirit of what I’ve been trying to explore in this blog: a way of thinking.
Imagine for a moment a perfect society. Then imagine what would be wrong with it.
Many discussions of poetry and the world come out of the first of these two possibilities, but many less out of the second. The first appeals to hopefulness, to a desire for justice. The second appeals mainly to shortcomings in trying to understand what it is that’s being hoped for. A poetics of complicity and the failure (or refusal) to understand.
What does one say about the failure or refusal of understanding in the lives of those who seem committed to understanding?
One could write a whole lifetime of poems without ever raising that question. There is after all a whole world outside ourselves, beyond what we have done, and one could comment about it with righteous anger, genuine hurt, or precise analysis, inexhaustibly. There will never not be something to be angry about, and rightly angry as well. There will never not be something to expose, and rightly expose.
But what kind of poetry could emerge from the attempt to engage with what the writer doesn’t understand? Would it be simply an attempt to understand, one more way to replace the failure to understand with a process of understanding? Would it simply be a display of confusion? How to write about not understanding in a way that is neither an attempt to turn it into understanding or an attempt to acknowledge, expose, or even celebrate misunderstanding?
What it would it mean to write a poem that attempts to engage, but not to resolve, the problem of what it means to not understand? Especially if one really does (but also does not) understand many things.
Further, why write about what’s not understood? Maybe this: to return us to a world that’s larger than human understanding. I do not necessarily mean by this anything having to do with any notion of god.
That the world has to be larger than what we know of it sometimes seems to me the only thing left to hope and work for.
And so this notebook: an attempt to explore what I don’t understand.