"Unprecedented Intimacy"

Bad practice, maybe, but I tend to skip interviews in journals unless they're with poets whose work really intrigues me. I was about to pass up one with Li-Young Lee in the current Sou'wester--en route to Dill's reviews of Loudon and King--when

I'm a terrified person

snagged my eye. Having been a terrified person, I brake for terrified people, even when they're being interviewed in journals.

What an excellent four pages. I would've been glad I stopped just for I took a drawing class when I was an undergraduate and I was told to draw the person you want to be and the body you want to have and I drew a picture of Emily Dickinson.

I also liked I'm interested in the language of passion and intimacy. I would like to achieve an unprecedented intimacy in my writing...Social constrictions come and go. I really don't care about them. I find they are like waves on an ocean, here today gone tomorrow, not even tomorrow, in seconds. But way deep down in the ocean, where all the whales are, that's where I am interested in being.

Well, hell, me too (though I also appreciate poetries in which the waves are of the utmost interest). I'd like to think there was a universal "where the whales are"--I'm not sure I don't--I think I do--but I know that the poems that speak to me with a near-unprecedented intimacy are probably not the ones that speak so to you (and you and you).

Are there poets that feel "intimate" to all of us? With his joy of atom-sharing and "I may not tell everyone, but I will tell you," Whitman certainly invites us, not so much promising as declaring a level of intimacy. I think Whitman pursues and claims more intimacy than he achieves, though. At times his insistence almost comes off as scary: can you imagine saying "no" to Whitman? I stop somewhere waiting for you! I stop somewhere waiting for you! When you're reading him, the things he says about "you" are exciting, but when they're a little bit off...at times reading Whitman makes me feel like a preteen being told, in detail, about sex by an adult, while flecks of spit occasionally fly out of his mouth. Funny that I almost feel disloyal to him, saying that, as if it might hurt his feelings (I lift up my bootsole and whisper apologies to the ground beneath). That I could feel disloyal...that does show that I've been touched: if Whitman did not quite speak to me intimately when I first picked him up at 14, he did teach me that I wanted to be spoken to intimately.

Can one be spoken to intimately in words? I think that's what makes poetry such a huge challenge, if you're interested in "unprecedented intimacy" in your poems...which does not mean telling your "secrets," or using that kind of SoQ let's-get-intimate tone (which is far less attractive than Whitman's). Sometimes I'm not sure many words can be used. I think of spare poetries, done well, as the most intimate...do words chase off intimacy? Anyway: huge challenge: words, as opposed to music or visual arts, which seem more direct...more direct because more animal, visceral? One reason sound is very important to me in poetry--


Charles said...

Secretly, I think touch is the most intmate language, but only because it's so precious to me.

When I shop, I have to pick things up. All the time. I have to hold them in my hands and only then can I decide if I want them. Sometimes I have to carry them around the store with me to see if they feel right. Sometimes I put them back where I found them. Sometimes, then, I take them home.

Love is like this.

Pamela said...

Rilke seems to reach out for an intimacy with the reader every bit as much as Whitman--addressing the "thing" and the "you" or "we," rather than the "I."

In an entirely different way, I'd have to vote for Frank O'Hara as intimate. I think it's because he's so damned charming and immediate. I'd have a Coke with him any time.

Sound is the most intimate sense to me. I'll forgive a poet almost anything, if it sounds beautiful.

A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz said...

I wish I could give you a cookie, via the internet. Or a medal. A cookie medal?

You're awesome. Thanks for giving me something to be happy about after a fourteen-hour workday. ; )

Shafer said...

It seems to me that a poet can make a reader comfortable in a poem and thereby encourage intimacy (which is defintely where I can see sounds being important.) I think it's easier to get intimate with a Frank O'Hara poem because he's a good host. But I think intimacy in between the poem and the reader comes mostly from the reader. I think it requires a lot of courage to get intimate with a Rilke poem.