Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Question of Originality

Jane Hirshfield, a poet and a long follower of Buddhism writes in her book "Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry" that poetic originality appears not only as new content or diction but also in the development of new techniques and forms.  Mozart said in one of his letters: "Solitude, whether endured or embraced, is a necessary gateway to original thought."  Who among us has an original thought some may ask, but it seems obvious that whenever you take in an idea it changes slightly with the process of assimilation.

Moon poems, love poems, nature poems have been written for centuries and yet for a piece of writing to endure it must have a unique spin or the voice of originality. I like to read poems of both original thought and  in original forms. It is not easy for a writer to do this--life is full of easy cliche. 

This time of year is full of changing dramas.  The moon, (Blood Moon of last night),  the changing colors in the autumn landscape--all old themes, but here are several new spins on these topics.

 Sotoba Komachi
  one of the early Japanese woman  poets

The color of the flowers fade
as the long rains fall,
as lost in thought,
I grow older
            (translated by Kenneth Rexroth)

Another Komachi poem:

This abandoned house
in a mountain village.
How many nights
has the autumn moon spent here?

A poem by Robert Frost

The Leaf-treader

I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn-
God knows all the color and form of leaves I have trodden
   on and mired.
Perhaps I have put forth too much strength and been too
  fierce from fear.
I have safely trodden underfoot the leaves of another year.

All summer long they were overhead, more lifted up than I.
To come to their final place in earth they had to pass me by.
All summer long I thought I heard them threatening under
   their breath.

And when they came it seemed with a will to carry me with
   them to death.
They spoke to the fugitive in my heart as if it were leaf to
They tapped at my eyelids and touched my lips with an in-
   vitation to grief.
But it was no reason I had to go because they had to go.
Now up, my knee, to keep on top on another year of snow.

Ancient Japanese poet, Fujiwara no Shunzei said " a good poem will  possess a kind of atmosphere that is distinct from its words and their configuration and yet accompanies them.   The atmosphere hovers over a the cry of the deer heard against the autumn moon."
            (trans. by Robert Bower and Earl Minor)

Japanese poet, Basho wrote many surprising poems about the moon.

whore and monk, we sleep
under one roof together,  
moon in a field of clover 

Last fall while reading a book about Basho and his long journey across a mountain to capture the spirit of the moon in various locations, I looked out the window at the incredible large harvest moon and wrote this poem.  I had been thinking about rules and why they often don't make sense.  Many teachers of poetry tell their students to avoid certain words like moon, heart, love--words fraught with cliche, but often that word is the best word for the poem. This poem was published in quartsiluni.

Oh Basho

Today in the classroom there is
more moon bashing.

Forsake the airy for the real, a smart young teacher says

and the students scratch out all words that end with ache.
Fuck it, one says, I’ll write what I write. Birds clap

at the window — nothing’s more true
than the unforeseen wind.

Tonight in their nests the crows will swoon.

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