There is at least one kind of utility that a poem can embody: ambiguity. Ambiguity is not what school or society wants to instill. You don’t want an ambiguous answer as to which side of the road you should drive on, or whether or not pilots should put down the flaps before take-off. That said, day-to-day living—unlike sentence-to-sentence reading—is filled with ambiguity: Does she love me enough to marry? Should I fuck him one more time before I dump him?
—”What is a poem?” Mark Yakich, The Atlantic, 25 November 2013.
I’d like to talk a little about the space that poetry creates for ambiguity and contemplation. Poetic language generally demands a greater amount of attention than prose, and so reading it requires a certain slowness. Slow down. Unpack.
Several years ago, I interviewed Jeff Hardin for Intermittent Visitors. Something he said then: “I refuse to give up my quiet time. I decided a long time ago that there must be a lot of power in that quiet space for there to be an all-out onslaught against it in our culture.”
That’s stuck with me. We’re always on, going from one distraction to the next, one crisis to the next. And we can’t make real connections or do the real work of living or challenge the status quo in any way if we’re in thrall to all these small demands on our time. Making time—headspace—for contemplation is necessary to the task of being human, and poetry can help us with that. (It’s not the only way. Making music, hiking in the woods, staring into a bonfire, planing a length of pine, etc. are all alternatives. But it’s one good way.)
Part of the definition of poetry that we’re grasping at through all of our entries this month needs to include ambiguity, and how ambiguous poetic language creates a little space for contemplation.