Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Making poetry, like making love

Full title: Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth
Author: Alice Walker
Genre: Poetry
Attributes: 256 pages, hard cover
Publisher: Random House (2003)
On the scale of Zero to OneZero (i.e. borrowed from local library)

The poems in this volume are not only visually evocative; they are also narrative. They tell stories with a special kind of passion that sings odes to the cohorts of humanity. Sometimes, this narrative inclination brings magical realism to the page. As in, for instance, “They Made Love”:
“They made love
On the altar
Of the church
In which
She received
First Communion.
It was the middle
Of the night
An old
Almost blind
Aunt
Best friend of
Her ancient
Grandmother
Happened
To drive
Past.”
It’s in the way things get arranged – in the coincidences that suture the fabric of an event like this – that the magic of poetry (of making poetry, like making love) surfaces ceremoniously and is laid on the ground, on the world.
The volume is organized thematically, but the poetic order of things dictates a constant mingling of topics and themes: cocktails of poetry served at a wedding-like banquet. There are poems of war and poems of love, poems of domesticity, poems in which flowers bloom in houses and the houses breathe with almost human lungs; then there are poems about the earth and poems about the sky, poems about spiritual experience and about drug-induced happiness. But also sad poems: poems without tears but with heavy, heavy souls.

Alice Walker
Source: The New Zealand Herald
In the brief preface to the volume, Alice Walker speaks of “visions of how humans might live peacefully and more lovingly upon the earth.” And so her poems are themselves peaceful. They feel soft. And I say ‘feel’ because they do have a tactile quality to them. As in the touching of a body:
“The softness of your belly
Curves
My hand;
Your back
Warms me.”
As in this. Alice Walker’s poems too are serene. They follow the curves of the slim lines, always aligned at the centre of the page, so that the stanzas can look more voluptuous. They are sensual, these poems, in the sense of causing in the reader a feeling (that special feeling) for the reading of poetry.
And so, among houses that are not locations, populated by flowers that are no plants, even the idea of war changes. The war poems in the collection are sad – like all war poems. They do not celebrate the heroism of the killer but the innocence of the victim. But they do so by turning the very idea of innocence upon the killer, to discover in him (with equal innocence) relics of humanity.
“Thousands of feet
Below you
There is a small
Boy
Running from
Your bombs.
If he were
To show up
At your mother’s
House
On a green
Sea island
Off the coast
Of Georgia
He’d be invited
For dinner.
Now, driven,
You have shattered
His bones.”
Then war, again: the end of reason, the beginning of nonsense, itself discussed in very gentle tones. But tones that hurt all the more because of it.
"Though War speaks
Every language
It never knows
What to say
To frogs.”
The volume is bound together by this constant return to the organic ties between human-made things (disastrous or beautiful, as they may be) and the earth. Like the boy under the feet of the bomber, like the frogs in the pond crushed by the huge tires of war machinery, like love brought to the level of an altar and made sacred by it. A long celebration of things human, a long compassion for the things gone wrong.