Reading Other People's Poems
March 19: Today Lisa brought me a book of her poems and asked me to read them.
I was not impressed
She was honey, sweet fruits falling, warm fleece
and down, packed around shards of fractured china.
She stood naked before gods, pleasing them
fellating each in turn.
Other men's penises leap from the page,
spraying the air. You boast, and I think you tease.
You are a wanton, an incestuous
female ram screwing your father before
a stranger's eyes, bowing before a picture
of Jesus as you wail coming for your
dead dead grandfather.
I have something for you, she said, slipping
away and leaving the black book falling
open so effortlessly that if she
had stayed she would already be mine.
Instead, I am left with a piece of her soul,
broken so painlessly it might never
have been attached.
I reached for your voice but I found nothing,
only the lines splintering in my ear.
This black thing kept you from me as if you
had come to me sealed in a box for which I
had lost the key.
A Visiting Poet Explains a Poem as a Hexagram
1) There is unity that defies the order we impose on nature.
Such is the object of all attempts at poems, and also their source.
We want to know what there is that wants knowing.
Why the lovers fuck and teenaged boys jerk;
and why rich people eat, their sideboards covered
with flowers and food; why children become adults;
why the poor suffer; how the meek inherit;
how the pure of heart see God.
2) A poem is a language that goes beyond words.
Consider the word, what it means to know the word,
what it means to have the word. Consider
who it is that makes the word.
Does the word create evil? Then the word
is evil. Does it seem dark and immoral? Then it is immoral.
The word is what dwells inside you.
It is your secret, masturbating mind.
Nothing is darker or more forbidden.
The word is the thunder of rockets, the force of war.
It is Lebanon, Sarajevo and Mecca,
Aleppo and Damascus. It is the spirit of Rome.
It is anarchy.
It is every structure built that is not conceived.
The word is the whine of turbines, or it’s the hiss
of burning flesh. It is millions dead.
The word rapes. The word is a temple whore.
It offers children as a sacrifice.
The word is with you always, but is it your soul?
It is the substance of your mind.
And you are its creator.
Consider language and its effect on the word.
Language is neither moral or proper
nor immoral or evil. Language is the way
the word is made flesh, an act of conception.
Language is the force that explodes the tips of trees
each spring and turns migrations while it breaks
the frozen ground with purple croci.
Language is the dance inspired
by the music of the spheres.
3) Don’t always expect to understand a poem. Experience it.
Say the lines aloud; shout them out, or act them out,
or let them intrude into everything you do.
Let them become like a spouse.
Start with an image. Compress it with words,
always expecting to find the accidental.
4) Poems are not ideas, but rather their source.
Go walking outside. Sit by yourself at a desk
in a dark bedroom. Place yourself with friends
outside the doors of a church. Suspend all you know
and assume nothing. The poem will yield itself
only when you yield.
Listen, for poems are sound.
Look, for poems are vision.
5) A poem lives by the force wonder and delight give to images.
An image can be intercourse between strangers
in a crowded room. It can be texture that’s pleasing or repulsive.
It can be matter that entwines itself
like a cage full of black snakes, or that resembles
a convoluted cactus that looks like a brain.
It can be abstract. It can be concrete. It can be terrifying
or be comforting. It can reaffirm belief or undermine
all our myth. Allow the image to expand to its fullest
possibility. Give it the freedom of children playing.
Let it invent its own rules as it goes along.
Exclude nothing from what you’ve not already found.
6) Poems aren’t always what you want them to be, nor what someone has said
a poem should be.
This is how poems can die: if they are made to fit
molds that are too small, or if they’re stretched past
limits they were never meant to pass.
Poetry can be motion of either the soul or the body’s parts.
Poetry can be intense stillness or silence.
A poem can be your body, or the way
I respond to it here in front of this class.
It can be your body nude, or your body clothed,
your body asleep, or your body on canvass.
Poetry can be your body caressed by love,
your body grown old, or your body rotting.
Poetry can be the seed that forever blooms within you
and no one ever sees.
Joseph Saling's first book of poems A Matter of Mind is available from Foothills Publishing. His poetry and stories have appeared widely in such journals as The Raintown Review, The Formalist, Poet Lore, Ohio Journal, The Bacon Review, Nothing No One Nowhere, and Carcinogenic Poetry. He lives in Metro Atlanta with his wife Sandy and their dog Yeats where to pass the time between poems, he writes stories, paints with acrylics, works on a novel, and makes a living as a freelance health writer and editor.