Saturday, August 10, 2013

Poet Robert Kelly: "the incomprehensible is the only thing that makes sense"

a girl you've just that minute met
explains tenderly that she and only she
is your final descendant
come from the farthest future...
and you don't even have a now to give her.
(from Fire Exit, Robert Kelly)

The literary chameleon Robert Kelly has written of poetry: "The high tension of reading a poem is such that any reader is somehow, somewhere, secretly or otherwise anxious for The End, for the poem to end. That anxiety for conclusion is built into the nature of the lyric poem, the short poem, and we can't escape it. Poetry seems like a clash of Gertrude Stein's 'writing wants to go on' with a kind of Aristotelian 'the form wants closure' -- it may be the very tension that makes us love the delicate discomfort of the poem."

Kelly has a fifty-year writing career. His collection of stories, The Logic of the World and Other Fictions (McPherson)was published in 2011, and Robert Coover called Kelly's science fiction novel The Book From the Sky (North Atlantic) "a vintage flying saucer .. a provocatively eccentric book of wisdom." Here is the writer's statement at the modern poetry conference at City University of New York, held in February, 2012.

I suppose poetry is
Listening Out Loud

And what one listens to is language --

language in one's head

(only a fool would confuse that with himself thinking

only a fool would think the things that he hears languaging in him
are things that he himself is thinking)

Most poets are too smart to believe in their own intelligence.

Witless, clueless, we await a sign.

Pindar tells us a sign is never clear (at least a sign from Zeus) --
hence the poem veers towards a kind of
lucid incomprehensibility,

[Eventually after a few hundred or thousand years we begin to comprehend the incomprehensible -- Dante, Aeschylus, Milton -- and they become classics and become of great celebrity but diminished use. But till then the texts are of great power, startling, provoking, eliciting. Some grand provokers -- Pindar himself, Li shang-yin, Lycophron, Hoelderlin, Stein -- still wait their turn, still turn us towards the poem we must write, the poem they force us to write, to make sense of what they do to our heads.]

The incomprehensible provokes the reader to acts of preternatural awareness.

This incomprehensibility factor is what the ancient Greeks called Mousa, Muse. [The Spartans -- sturdy workmen, who would have liked the sacred gizmos of Elshtain's gnoetry* -- called her Moha.] (I told her I would work her into this evening.)

The incomprehensible is the only thing that makes sense. That is, it creates sense -- the sense of something happening to you as you read.

And that's the only happening poetry has?

The luster of listening.

Or what we hear in poetry is groans from the battlefield where time struggles against space.

Kelly's own dream-like poetry is best described by the author himself when he recently wrote that "the page looked like this, in the sense that a sentence was continuing from an earlier page, but what is the earlier page of a dream? Is the answer any clearer than if I asked: what is the earliest dream?"

Kelly has written and published more than sixty books. His most recent volume of poems is Fire Exit (Black Widow Press), a group of 132 short poems comprising a single long work. For more about Robert Kelly and his work, visit his website at rk-ology.

*gnoetry: an on-going experiment in human/computer collaborative poetry composition.

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