Week 12: Reflecting on reflecting

Plath, Sylvia, 1977. Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams. London: Faber and Faber Limited.


Context p.92,93


‘The issues of our time which preoccupy me at the moment are the incalculable genetic effects of fallout and a documentary article on the terrifying, mad, omnipotent marriage of big business and the military in America – ‘Juggernaut, The Welfare State’, by Fred J. Cook in a recent Nation. Does this influence the kind of poetry I write ? Yes, but in a sidelong fashion. I am not gifted with the tongue of Jeremiah, though I may be sleepless enough before my vision of the apocalypse. My poems do not turn out to be about Hiroshima, but about a child forming itself finger by finger in the dark. They are not about the terrors of mass extinction, but about the bleakness of the moon over a yew tree in a neighbouring graveyard. Not about the testaments of tortured Algerians, but about the night thoughts of a tired surgeon.

In a sense, these poems are deflections. I do not think they are an escape. For me, the real issues of our time are the issues of every time – the hurt and wonder of loving; making in all its forms – children, loaves of bread, paintings, buildings; and the conservation of life of all people in all places, the jeopardizing of which no abstract doubletalk of ‘peace’ or ‘implacable foes’ can excuse.

I do not think  a ‘headline poetry’ would interest more people any more profoundly than the headlines. And unless the up-to-the-minute poem grows out of something closer to the bone than a general, shifting philanthropy and is, indeed, that unicorn-thing – a real poem, it is in danger of being screwed up as rapidly as the news sheet itself.

The poets I delight in are possessed by their poems as by the rhythms of their own breathing. Their finest poems are born all-of-a-piece, not put together by hand; certain poems in Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, for instance; Theodore Roethke’s greenhouse poems; some of Elizabeth Bishop and a very great deal of Stevie Smith (‘Art is wild as a cat and quite separate from civilisation’).

Surely the great use of poetry is its pleasure – not its influence as religious or political propaganda. Certain poems and lines of poetry seem as solid and miraculous to me as church altars or the coronation of queens must seem to people who revere quite different images. I am not worried that poems reach relatively few people. As it is, they go surprisingly far – among strangers, around the world, even. Farther than the words of a classroom teacher or the prescription of a doctor; if they are very lucky, farther than lifetime.’


I believe that what Sylvia said about poetry applys to the reflection process we must engage in to not only manage organization but our minds.






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