I sometimes think poetry is a mystic art. It is the conjuring of words and forms, meter and (sometimes) rhyme to transport—intellectually and emotionally if not, at times, spiritually—both poet and reader to another place where we can commune in some deeper understanding of one another. No matter the subject, it is the æther in which we explore the macro and the micro and ponder it’s meaning, not in the sense of its definition, but in regard to its bearing in and weight on our lives.
Perhaps your understanding of poetry is different than mine, but it is with the aforementioned “mystic” potential of poetry that I usually have in mind as I write. In the case of my latest digital chapbooks, Pearl Dandy and How the Story Ends, however, I approached things a bit differently. It was for that reason that I decided to write a commentary on each of the works—not to explain them, per se, but to give a bit of insight into my thought/writing process as I wrote the material for two very different chapbooks.
Each week, I’ll take a look at two poems and we’ll begin in the bizarre miscellany called Pearl Dandy.
First up is “Babylon.”
Kicking off Pearl Dandy is this piece about a scheming woman. I had no plan as I typed out the first two lines but, as image gave way to image, it began to lead me where it wanted me to go.
Her wings were made of tissue
her feet of broken clay
her heart of molten lava
her soul a rumba sway
The imagery of tissue wings stuck with me after hearing Daniel Amos’ “Rice Paper Wings” from their double album, Mr. Buechner’s Dream. This first stanza establishes the “her” of the poem as delicate, yet sexual, whereas the next stanza will take us deeper into noir territory. The soul as music or rhythm is fairly typical. When darkness creeps into my poetry, it tends to take a feminine form—there are quite a few wicked ladies lurking on the pages—and this continues that theme.
she poured herself a Jack and Coke
and lit a cigarette
her perfume lingered in the air
with longing and regret
Jack and Coke is perhaps a bit old fashioned as drink choices go, but I imagined this seductress as the film-noir femme fatale sort, so it seemed appropriate, as does the cigarette and perfume. If you’ve read much of my work, the idea of lingering perfume is a recurring one.
her voice was so hypnotic
I was forfeit to her schemes
She’s the parasitic lover
of my syphilitic dreams
The parasitic lover—how sad. The idea that such a woman could, herself, fall prey to a man with his own ‘syphilitic’ secret seemed, if not just, at least comical.
Next up is “A Godless Creed.”
In this age of Facebook rants and Twitter debates, I’ve come across plenty of “discussions” that quickly devolved into Christianity vs. Atheism. Since I poked at Christians already (“To the Flock at St. Starbucks Evangelical Church of Conservative Truth” from I Am a Broken House,) I decided to turn my attention to atheists, speaking what they might not find the courage to admit.
We don’t like the truth in here
it stirs our stagnant waters
screws with the homogeny
we sell our sons and daughters
In the Beatles’ film, A Hard Day’s Night, Paul McCartney refers to Wilfred Brambell (his grandfather in the movie) as a “king mixer”… meaning, of course, that he liked to stir up trouble. I rather liked the idea that atheists would see Christians (or theists in general) as “mixers” that stir things up and thumb their noses at the status quo by being counter-cultural. As for homogeny, it’s an accusation often leveled at Christians, but I find there is also a tendency for atheists to seek out the like-minded and expect the same from their children.
Our nonsense has killed your nonsense
your God, your
Our freedom has trumped your freedom
your thoughts, your sense of self
Striking out the word “babies” and replacing it with the more sterile “embryos” was an obvious jab, but the stanza is mainly about the hypocrisy and hubris of anyone criticizing a group for thinking they are the keepers of ultimate truth, when only someone in possession of that sort of knowledge could actually discredit them. It’s saying “you don’t know the real truth and I know that because I DO know the real truth.” Nonsense.
We don’t like the way you choose
it makes our street dead-end
highlights our hypocrisy,
denies us our pretend
No one likes to think they’ll have to answer to a higher authority.
Our reason has killed your reason
your faith, your ancient myth
Our message has crushed your message
your hymns, your sacred text
I’m lucky to have some atheists as friends who do not feel the need to “convert” anyone, but I’ve seen a few on the internet that were flat-out evangelists for their non-faith. There are even atheist churches (like the North Texas Church of Freethought) with regular Sunday services. It struck me that the overall message is just “our way is better than your way,” which is, of course, the very thing they condemn religious people for thinking.
We don’t like the life you live
it’s sunlight to our sleeping
exposes our depravity
and leaves us to our weeping
Again, the thought of answering to someone for our actions can be uncomfortable. The Bible talks about shining the light of the Gospel into dark places and letting it expose our wickedness so that we can put it to death. The final stanza was just me imagining how it would feel to have that light fall on our shadowy souls if we had no intention of addressing our wickedness and no hope that someone stronger than us might intervene on our behalf.
So, there you go. Two poems down. Two more literary dissections to come next week. I hope you’ve enjoyed your peek into my brain. If you’d like to download a copy of Pearl Dandy, visit my store.
Until next time,
J. Patrick Lemarr