September 19th, 2010 11:09 EST
A Prize-Winning Poet Describes The Poetic Voice Politics Tries to Silence
Poetry must scare the parent
When I think of the Delphic in poetry "that alien voice that doesn`t sound like the poet`s "I think of the late Alice Miller, the courageous Swiss psychiatrist who insisted that we must liberate the all-too compliant child, the child who conspires with adults to cover up the sins committed against him.
The Delphic voice is dangerous, and it is the one hope civilization has of evolving beyond war to resolve conflicts. It emanates from sculpture, painting, music, fiction, song, wherever we try to express the price we have paid for politics. Politics is the brute suppression of truth and authenticity with ideology.
Politics, like pedagogical parents, seeks to silence inquiry. Miller saw in her researches that society`s efforts to muffle children about what they have experienced leads to violence. Intimidating the child, whether physically or emotionally, produces the next Hitler or Stalin. When it comes to child abuse, forgiveness is admirable but understanding is better, and that means giving the pain voice.
The Delphic voice stands in opposition to pedagogy and cover-up. It utters against all odds the desperate truth. It unerringly says the one thing we don`t want to hear. It has no respect for family or cultural secrets. That is the voice we recognized in Allen Ginsberg`s Howl. It is the voice we often heard in W.H. Auden, notably in his dirge for William Butler Yeats. It is the voice I recently heard in the poems of the French poet Valerie Rouzeau.
It tears loose from the poet`s intent. It goes beyond the given and received. It demands to be heard. It demands that the poet accommodate it no matter the cost to his intended prosody, no matter the cost to his life. It creates its own prosody. It explains why poets sometimes abruptly depart from a metrical scheme. Sometimes it joins the ongoing dance of a poem. Sometimes it intrudes or even wrecks the party. When you read Auden`s dirge for Yeats you`ll see what I mean. The three-part poem starts with long-lined free verse, only loosely rhymed. But it ends liturgically.
In each instance the Delphic voice causes an emergency to which the poet must rise. It may sound like the frightening medium in the famous 1950 Kurosawa film, Rashomon. Or it may have a siren`s guile or a child`s stunning innocence.
One of the quarrels avant-garde poets of the past had with formalist poetry is that it seemed to post haughty guards at the door to keep out orgiastic Delphic celebrants. It seemed to fear unruliness. That is why the avant-garde "I`m thinking of Arthur Rimbaud, among others "seemed so threatening. A poem is essentially a criminal act, but you can always tell who the real criminals are by observing who gets het up about it. Formalism can be as criminal as free verse. To be great, or even good, they must be outlaw, vulnerable and brave.
In time, and not with much critical help, poets came to see that the Delphic oracle in them is always trying to break out from ordinary restraint if only because restraint has become so ordinary. Prosody and poetics are not meant to restrain but rather to enable and empower. They are as amenable to change as poetic demeanor, and there is no need to regard them as artifact or obstacle. The oracle is not so much prophetic as it is steely. It says what we do not wish to hear, and it gives cover to our wish not to hear it, because, after all, it is not we who are saying the dread thing, but the oracle. Any good poet is a thousand times steelier than a politician. Any good poet is a front-line combat veteran of something almost too frightful to name.
The real restraints are imposed by received ideas, preconceptions, authorized versions, vogues, ideologies. The parent who says to a child who claims to have seen faeries, You only imagine them, they`re in your head "that parent is an enemy of the Delphic voice. The child is not only presenting that parent with an inconvenience, the child is scaring the parent.
We`re not only unwilling to accept that children see things we have lost the ability to see, we deem it necessary to beat the child into submission to our authorized view, whether by physical or emotional means. And as long as we intimidate children we can expect violence, for we have taught them violence. This is what is going on in our body politic, and it is a more deadly disease than any to which we have given names. The pedagogical parent and the adolescent co-conspirator are the super-stars of our politics.
I believe that in spite of a great deal of intellectual and prosodic daring on the part of many poets we are living through a period of tame, safe and nostalgic poetry which imposes little demand on the market and encourages an aesthetic consensus that bodes ill. I have reached this highly subjective conclusion by periodically studying the work published by our most highly regarded presses. I think it no accident that this phenomenon coincides with an inquisitorial period of demonization in our society.
I find breathtaking, daunting work, to be sure. And I am always exhilarated and encouraged by it. But I also find a torrent of anecdotal, prosy, risk-averse poems "well-honed, skilled and in too much good company, much too much.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com