Poetry as Questioning

Bengamin Steiner

Implicit in any attempt to theorize about something as aesthetically amorphous as poetry is a claim or argument about what is or isn't poetry. Or how poems should or shouldn't be written. In this essay, I intend to explicitly stay away from arguing for any specific or tacitly specific poetic agenda and rather offer a personal-poetic-narrative (PPN)-- that is to say, my writing process-- as a window into what I do and am doing when I write a poem. Thus, I proceed in this essay in the following manner: (1) I describe who has influenced my writing and how he or she moves me to write (2) I deconstruct one of my own poems and (3) I offer concluding remarks about how I find poetry or how poetry finds me.

The thing about Charles Reznikoff that was and is so liberating is his embrace of the"simple." That any observation or feeling or memory or smell or taste was fair game for his poetic investigations. Likewise, George Oppen never wrote a poem about "anything." His writing was active and utterly sensitive to the environment he was in in any given moment. But Oppen also took issue with the very words he used in his poems. "As in" "Or" were Oppen's 'dralas'-- his way of literally evoking magic there. And we can take and learn so much from that. Words are always to be questioned. What was the last word I wrote? Why did I write it? What does it mean substantively? What does it mean grammatically? Questions are a wonderful energy, indeed are tools (like a paint brush), we always have at our disposal. And from questioning these words and thoughts (indeed wherever the mind takes us) a poem is given "life."

A poem moves and is moving. There is nothing romantic about that. But so much energy. A poem has energy. We give it life by questioning the very words we write on a page. In this way, one could write a poem that virtually has no ending. Does life really begin or end anywhere? If poetry is a genuine extension of our lives-- it needn't be if one so chooses-- shouldn't it mimic life? Perhaps not. But a poetry "outside" ourselves seems difficult without losing a sensitivity to language.

Clothes pile and overflow on the floor.
Not dirty.
An adjective unambiguously ripe.
Or wrinkles and clutters a room.
Sits and gathers as leaves.

An everyday observation is observed. Big deal. This poem could have been written many different ways. I may not have felt as good-- a purely artistic choice-- however, something is given life in the process of questioning. In the process of discovering the mundane is made super-real. A clarity is now present. Or an energy is now there. Colors are layered on. And that feels good. Like taking a warm shower. I return to it because I enjoy it. And it isn't cumbersome. Shouldn't poetry be as enjoyable as showering?

Poetry is or can be found anywhere. The process of discovery is an endlessly reciprocal relationship between the eyes, mind, and hand. A poem lives in this process. A poem is a process. It needn't be contained. Or perhaps it already is?

Steiner's poems can be found in volume 1 issue 4.

e-mail the poet at benjaminsteiner@hotmail.com
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