Image

                    By Felix Fojas

 

Every poet worth his salt has his own pet poetic theory, a kind of poetic bible or credo he swears and writes by. There is Eliot who claims that a poet must be conscious of his poetic roots and tradition, that whatever breakthroughs in craft and style he achieves, whatever school of poetry he establishes and propagates, whatever new panoramic vision he sees, he is capable of doing so because he is standing on the epic, marble shoulders of his predecessors. There is Donne and the metaphysical poets who rely on the poetic conceit of the extended metaphor and resort to antithetical ideas and images “yoked by violence together.” There are Mallarme, Baudelaire and the symbolists who transcend the literal and figurative levels of imagery and use images as a subtle symbol for some unexpressed abstract meaning.  There are the imagists led by Pound who create patterns of imagery and prosody based on sensory impressions that evoke a sense of both internal and external emotion or feeling at the expense of cold logic.

 

Subsequently, there is Rene Char and the surrealists who fish for luminous images from the dark, bottomless ocean of the subconscious. There are dissident poets like Sandburg and Neruda who raise a solitary voice in the wilderness of oppression to celebrate and champion the downtrodden and the wretched of the earth, thus specializing in the so-called genre of poetry with a social conscience. In stark contrast, there are avant garde poets who believe in art for art’s sake and regard craft and technique as the ultimate purpose of writing poetry. Instead of writing for the masses or the public at large, such eccentric bards write exclusively for themselves and perhaps grudgingly, for a small, elite audience of aesthetic gourmands who relish eating the caviar of a poem. At the other extreme, there is the English love poet Robert Graves who has elevated poetry to mysticism and staunchly believes that the only valid poem is a love poem which every poet must dedicate to a specific woman, a   flesh-and-blood muse with whom he is currently in love, and who secretly symbolizes the White Goddess, the eternal and sacred spiritual muse of poetry—the very same bard who claims that the only true test and proof of genuine poetry is if the poem at hand produces a frisson; that is,  if its makes the hair on the nape stand on ends or if one experiences a tingling sensation jackknifing down the spine. And, as a point of emphasis, if one were to count and write down the plethora of schools in the field of poetic criticism that have spawned from antiquity to our postmodern times—like classicism, formalism, structuralism and deconstruction—the list would go on ad infinitum.

 

Many years ago I wrote a theory of poetics entitled On the Shape of a Poem, which originally appeared in Likha, the literary journal of De La Salle University in the Philippines. That particular essay, of which I have lost all my personal copies, and which inclines towards a blend of the symbolist and imagist traditions, I now completely renounce, consign to oblivion, and have recycled from memory into this brand-new essay with a slightly revised title. Why? Only because through the passage of years I have consciously or unconsciously, fortunately of unfortunately, changed my articles of poetic faith. From my own personal standpoint, I now subscribe to all theories in general but no theory in particular. For I have finally realized that hitching my wagon to the star of a single school of poetry is akin to wearing an invisible straitjacket that would constrict both my vision and mode of poetic expression. As far as I am concerned poetry is a many-splendor thing, a polymorphous creature whose shapelessness cannot be captured and confined in the constricted cage of a single school and style of writing, and whose mysterious ontology can be traced back to unrecorded history itself in the oral tradition of myths and legends. Thus when John the mystic said, “In the beginning was the word…” he could have well uttered, “In the beginning was the poem…”

 

In terms of genres of poetry, I try my hand in whatever type I am comfortable with, perhaps with the exception of exotic forms like the haiku, tanka, epic, or the state-of-the art computer poetry known as cyber poetry which is chiefly textual and visual, making use of advanced computergraphic visual techniques and stereophonic sound effects. However, I have experimented on concrete poetry in which the text of a poem is arranged in such as way as to produce the shape of a real object, say an apple or a mountain, on a page. Here is an example of one of my concrete poems, which I was able to concretize with a little help from the poet-novelist Eric Gamalinda:

STONE

A

Grey cat

Curled into

A ball

Of

Granite Sleep

 

                                                                        (3)

Owing to the fact that I have traveled to many countries and have lived in some, and of late have been uprooted again and transplanted to America, my frequent sojourns have affected not only my body or diurnal clock but my poetic sensibility as well and have influenced me to compose poetry of place and alienation, such as:

O’HARE AIRPORT

 

The day opens doors to dark

Destinations as I fidget in

My seat, being a dumb peregrine

In this universe called America.

This airport, one of the world’s largest,

Oracles hurried footsteps which

Foretell arrivals and departures.

The electronic scanners are busy

Peeping through countless baggage

For ticking bombs or opium bags,

Without even sparing love-letters,

Divorce papers and suicide notes.

Like disembodied idioms, people

Float and flutter across this stage

Of escalators, conveyor belts and doors,

Leading to what aerodynamics of fate.

Every second a plane lands without fail,

Unloading its cargo of life, or

Takes off for some dark continent,

What aerial exigency of no return!

I walk outside to limber my stiff legs

And the cold wind suddenly slaps me.

Shall I smile and turn the other cheek?

                                             

 ORANGE GROVE ROAD

 

The very air in this place

Reeks of disinfectant

And is certified germ-free

Because in this city

Of gleaming skyscrapers

Cleanliness is an obsession.

Even the brown leaves,

As soon as they fall on this road,

Are systematically swept away

By a legion of street-sweepers.

Here it is frustrating not to find

A single fugitive cigarette-butt

Hiding in the grass.

And how can a litterbug survive

When the fine is fifty Singaporean

Dollars! Those two fat ladies

Jogging over there greet

Me with their pearly

Antiseptic smiles.

Personally I think

Dirty cities have more character.

As a silent protest, I will

Not wash for a whole week.

Afterwards, I’m sure,

A policeman wearing a spotless

Blue uniform will politely

Arrest me

For not keeping the city clean.

 

I am sure that my permanent relocation to America, and my daily exposure to its culture and the American brand of English, will have a tremendous impact on my future poetic efforts, for better or for worse, and conjure a subtle transformation in my soul—traces of which are already beginning to surface in my most recent poems. This overwhelming change will not only dictate the newfangled topics and themes I will dwell upon, but will surely affect the very core of my poetic vision; thanks to the accessibility of books, information, learning and a wide variety of exotic experiences in all departments of life that are available here in the United States. For one, listening to Americans speak plain, idiomatic English has made me more conscious of the language and its mind-boggling nuances and usage, which varies from region to region, perhaps from county to county. Just the other day, while sitting idly in front of Has Beans Café here in Chico, California, I overheard my friend, the country singer Ed Smith, greeting a long-lost friend, instead of the usual pleasantry, “Long time no see,” by saying: “What brings you to this snake of woods?,” an expression which I found so colorful and provocative.  Three days later, when I bumped into Ed again, I told him that I particularly liked his expression “the snake of wood.” Wide-eyed and dumbfounded, Ed, the handsome Marlboro Man look-alike, complete with a cowboy hat, promptly corrected me. “Man, you heard me wrong. I said ‘neck of woods’ and not ‘snake of woods.’” Then he pondered for a few moments and complemented my ignorance by saying: “But frankly speakin’, I like your version better, Felix. It…it sounds more poetic.” I just smiled at him sheepishly and realized that I must be prematurely going deaf. Or probably because I heard him with my somewhat defective left ear which got busted in a fight during my heyday as a brawler. Memento mori. This reminds me of the immortal English dramatist and poet Christopher Marlowe who got fatally stabbed in the eye, in a drunken brawl.

I am now a double agent in poetry. My allegiance and loyalty belongs to no one but my self. And in my poetic arsenal I use all kinds of weapon at my disposal, be it symbolism, imagism, surrealism or plain lyricism, to effect the alchemical process of transforming leaden words into gold, and of the subtle art of murdering language and nuances, only to resurrect and reconstruct them in a new form and meaning.  Moreover, I honestly believe that a poet must be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, lest the very act of specializing in and mastering a few, limited genres or forms of poetry strangle his peregrine soul. Moving on to the concept of themes, a poet, to be truly worth his salt, must be capable of digging for and discovering pure, original nuggets of insight on the widest range of possible themes and of inventing various ingenious, novel ways of expressing them in his own authentic voice if not style. Thus my own poetic repertoire ranges from love songs, as in the following,

 

 

ABSENT-MINDED BELOVED

 

She loves me,

She forgets me not.

She forgets me,

She loves me not.

And in the grey field

Of forgetfulness

She remembers,

And falls in love

With me again.

                                           

 A CHOICE OF FLAGS

 I want to unfurl

My heart to you with pride

And shake it in the wind

Like a crimson flag,

The true color

Of my unbridled passion.

Or would you rather

That I humbly raise

It in the limp air

Like a white flag,

Signaling that

I surrender my love

Unconditionally

To you and you alone.

                                             

  A LOVER’S LAMENT

 

 Love, I thought you were

A fairy-tale story

But you’ve turned out

To be a gothic nightmare.

 

BLACKHOLE

 

Here I swirl beyond

The event horizon,

Faster than the speed

Of light, sucked by this

Terrible vortex

That warps time and space,

Trapping all my

Energy and matter

In its intense

Gravitational field.

There is no escape

From this abyss—

Your heart’s black hole.

                                         

                                                 

BODY SCENTS

 

 How can I exorcise

Your everlasting scents

From the haunted house

Of my memory?

I have smelled paradise

In your lush armpits

And eternity’s flowers

Between your naked thighs.

Like the huge grey trunk

Of a lumbering hulk,

My prodigious nose

Has a long memory.

Gifted with clairvoyance,

It can even sniff

The color of your soul.

 

 CRYPTOGRAM

 

  Love is saying

What you do not mean,

And meaning what

You do not say.

None can decipher

This secret code,

Except blind lovers.

 

to the erotic, as in these x-rated verses,

 

 THE SECOND COMING

 

Like the High Priest Solomon

Once Again I Reverently

Entered her holy of holies

And offered the pure white

Lamb of my nakedness

Upon the altar of lust:

O her eyes fluttered,

O her body trembled,

As she anxiously awaited

The Second Coming!

                                               

 

 TOWER OF BABEL

 

 And when you took my tower

Between your moist, warm lips

While I anointed your perfumed altar

With my consecrated tongue,

I became totally speechless

And you were dumbstruck.

All we could utter were moans

And groans—a confusion of tongues,

The Babel-language of love.

 

   YOU

 

You are

the centerfold

of my

wettest dreams                                                     

 

to the economic, social, ecological, philosophical and even anthropological and personal themes:

                                   

THE GREAT PESO DEVALUATION

 

“A peso is a peso is a peso.”

That was true twenty years ago.

But in these days of the Big Lie

What can the shrinking peso buy?

Exactly three drops of gasoline,

Or the mouth-watering tail of a sardine,

One big shiny bottle of despair,

Or an overflowing ganta of fresh air.

Let us use the peso as confetti

To save on the Yellow pages, how witty!

Let us recycle the peso, brother,

Into rolls and rolls of toilet paper.

 

FAILED MESSIAH

 

Its tiny domed head was crowned

With flies when they found it at dawn,

Slumped in a throne of garbage

Amid spoiled rice, fish bones, condoms

And other stinking matter.

It was hurriedly wrapped in

A plastic bag, its survival

Cord tied around its neck like

A noose. Caked in blood, its fist-sized

Face was innocence itself

As it lay in the foetal pose

Of an eternal nightmare.

What could have been its bright fate

Had it not been forcibly fished

Out of the womb with the hook

Of a metal hanger? Perhaps

A sage or even the future

President of the Republic?

But he was just another

Failed messiah dropped by chance from

Heaven into a stable

Of trash. He was destined to save

The world but could not save himself.

 

GOD BLESS THE GREAT PIRANHA        

        

God bless the great piranha,

Leviathan of Greed

Whose gaping mouth

Is the Grand Canyon

Whose teeth of steel

Are nuclear warheads

An whose bottomless belly

Only takes in high-

Calorie delicacies:

Forests, rivers, lode-rich

Mountains, third world

Countries and entire continents.

Jonah’s nightmare

Proverbially suffers

From indigestion and

With the roaring spectacle

Of Niagara Falls,

Vomits rubber tires,

Plastic bottles and tons

And tons and tons of

Non-biodegradable trash.

The day will come when

This ravenous monster

With star-spangled eyes

And whose frame is striped

With red and white scales

Will gobble planet Earth

And float like a puffer fish

Till it is unceremoniously sucked

By a black hole in space,

A cosmic cesspool,

And lingers there forever

Lest it nibble the whole

Universe to the bone.

 

 BLINDERS

 

It’s good to wear a pair

Of blinders like a horse

As you gallop on

Life’s unpredictable road.

At least you won’t know

And worry about

What’s going to hit

You from the side

Or from behind.

All you have to watch

Out for is what’s coming

Straight towards you.

It’s good to wear a pair

Of  blinders like a horse.

It keeps you single-minded

And gives you a sense

Of confidence and purpose.

 

MACHO LIE

 

Among the Chaga tribesmen of east

Africa, it’s a dogma that adult

Males do not defecate. The menfolk

Propagate this preposterous tale

By telling the female of the species

That come initiation time, the anus

Of a man is plugged with a ritual

Stopper. And so the men have to move their

Bowels in utmost secrecy, the stiff

Price they have to pay for enforcing such

Taboo. Perhaps the men uphold this

Old tribal fiction to give themselves

A supernatural air and assert

Their superior sex. Being wiser,

The women subtly pretend to swallow

The macho lie, lest the warriors feel

Insecure and lose their will to fight

And their biological urge

To sire new members of the tribe.

           

TRAUMAS

 

I wear my traumas

With finesse

Like rose-wounds

On my soul’s frayed lapel,

Or akin to a peacock-proud

Anti-hero, his hairless

Chest bedecked with rows

And rows of gleaming

Medals of despair.

 

In poetry there are no sacred cows, not even the holy of holiest subjects or objects. In poetry there are no taboos, not even the most vulgar, despicable acts. All and sundry subjects matters are fair game to the poet-hunter. If I choose to deconstruct God and celebrate his death, or write about vulgar eschatological topics like releasing one’s undivine wind or malodorous afflatus, or the act of micturating, it’s nothing personal—it’s just art and pure poetic license, like in these verses :

 

GOD IS DEAD

 

 Today all the newspaper

Headlines are screaming

That God is dead, kaput!

 Nietzsche and his ilk

Will have a field day.

Based on sketchy

Reports, He expired

Last night, for lack

Of true believers, in

The charity ward

Of a public hospital.

This is truly earthshaking,

Considering He is

The only one among us

Who is supposed to be

Exempted from death

And all that hustle.

Yet the dark angel

Showed no mercy

And dragged him away.

This at least calls for

A joint press conference

From all religions

Lest they go bankrupt.

We must act quickly.

If its hard to sustain

One’s faith in God, it is

Harder to keep up

With one’s unbelief.

We must find another

God before the ground

Beneath our feet

Quakes, cracks open

And swallows us alive.

Now who should like

To replace the one and

Only God Almighty?

Any volunteer

From the audience?

                                               

THE ART OF THE FART

 

 Beyond the artsy fartsy,

Beyond the jolting fart

That blasts like a bassoon

Or trumpet, and is powerful

Enough to snuff out a candle

Or bore a gaping hole

In the seat of one’s pants…

There are square and round

Farts, gaseous nightmares

Of all shapes and sizes.

There is a checkered fart

 And farts of all colors and shades…

Last but not least,

There is the subtlest fart of them all

Issues forth not

From the fundament,

But from the parted supple

Cheeks of silence itself.

It is an enigmatic fart,

An epic fart with no

Beginning or end

Me thinks it is my soul farthing.

 

                                                           

 THE RITE OF PISSING

 

 Perform this sacred ritual

With utmost reverence

And in utter secrecy…

Unleash the great golden

Flood, your torrents of spring.

Whistle as you please a classic

Tune to drown out the hiss

 And warm puny ants and creepers

To embark upon a sudden

Diaspora elsewhere before

They drown like sinful tribes

In your epic waters…

Conclude your rite of passage

By shaking your sacred staff thrice…

Your mass of

Turning common water

Into fermented wine

Is complete. The divine

Drama ends. The great

Mystery of the ages

Is fulfilled. High priest, you sigh

A holy sigh of relief,

Amen.

 

A poet must even risk incarceration or face the firing squad and fight all forms of tyranny as my colleagues in the Philippine Literary Arts Council and I did during the height of the Marcos regime by fashioned poems into exploding Molotov cocktails which we hurled at the tyrant’s great stone face:


When this regime passes, O my people, let us not

Forget. A people is only as strong as its memory.

So memorialize our nightmare of one man who made

Us chaste by slow degrees…

Let his great Stone Face on our mountain gather moss

of his solitude.

Without witness, without sacrifice, let his Worship

Hang clear from our sky.

Let it be inviolate.

–Gemino H. Abad in When This Regime Passes

 

                                    …The poem wriggles

in my head like a fish in a bowl, its words

climbing up the rim to meet the light. Can this

be writ? Or is the mind a pyre pit? Somewhere

in the stacks of bony alphabet drying

in the sun is a rhyme for this destruction

and a meter to mark a tyrant’s abuse…

In the act of making the poem, the blood

of a thousand peasants glimmers like a flag,

and carcasses of heroes thicken with flies.

The poem must be writ in pain, then, in flesh

full of pain, with letters a tyrant cannot

abuse. Climate, terrain, tools, money in banks,

passports – the mercenaries must be covered

by, moving from age to age, fixing time bombs

to our rage – the poem must say that…

–Cirilo F. Bautista in Thoughts on an Assassination, Ten Years Hence

 

                                          …Will this country rebel

at the thought that its future

is to be carved

on top of a table?

Before each man

is paper cut in squares,

the geometry of mind

set by its corners…

 This is what high office teaches:

each act must be set in ink

lest it wither in memory

No words are allowed

to stab air or eardrum alone

Let pens do the stabbing

For cutting into the heart of paper

shall be the new manner of ruling.

A new style for a new world.

–Alfrredo Navarro Salanga in On the First Week of the    New Year

 

                              …The prophet has a conscience:

the science of conning

he has enjoyed

connubial bliss with.

For many years.

His tears

fall even as the future

unfolds with the utmost

odds of consideration.

Considering the nation

That’s something to be said.

The prophet was read

But never laid.

His words roosted of their own

Accord. His lord’s worth

Held on.

–Alfred A. Yuson in Prophet Scream

 

                                              …Pity is fiercely

all skin and bones

scorched

erasable

as the heart of cities

where graves are still

dug with spoons.

–Ricardo M. de Ungria in Stillives

 


What hypnotic suggestion is this

That would make Mesmer leap from his grave

When the state releases fairy-tales

As official statements to feed our

Imagination while our stomachs

Grumble for gossip of solid food?

What magic blue, what sleight-of-hand

That would put Houdini to shame

When a commission is conjured

To preside over dark séance

And probe a dream within a dream?

Enter star witness, an underwear,

While the rest are deaf, dumb and blind

Though soap opera unfolds at high noon

Right in front of snoring media men.

Where the only thing real: the smell of

Cordite, the trajectory of lead;

And on the tarmac: our hero dead!

–Felix P. Fojas in Anatomy of a Murder

 

     As I pointed out in my essay Poetry of Protest, Or Voices of Reality in Two Decades of Fantasy that appeared in the August 29, 1984 issue of WHO Magazine and which, shortly after, was forever banned from publishing by the late Philippine president and dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos:

 

Nowadays a poet has two and only two options, namely: to lock himself up in an ivory tower permanently and compose poems for an imaginary audience; or to be among flesh-and-blood people and write poems of protest against all forms of dictatorship and oppression. Only a poet without an iota of conscience can still write about picayune topics such as “romantic rhododendrons” and “swooning sunsets” amid poverty, violence and political uncertainty. A word of warning to all poets: a poet who cannot even speak to his own generation can never expect to communicate with future generations. A poet who is devoid of any sense of historical consciousness may as well dedicate all his impotent odes to the Muse of Oblivion. The time is now! History is unfolding before the poet’s very eyes.  He must choose whether to write beautiful lies or pen ugly truths. There is no middle ground. There is no happy compromise. The poet is deluding himself, if he expects to become immortal, by writing half-lies and half-truths.

     In this archipelago of anguish, in this land of stillborn sunsets, it is the duty of every poet who is worth his rhyme to forge each ode into a tracer bullet, each sonnet into an armalite rifle, and each epic poem into a battle-tested division of fighting men. Every line of poetry that is fired from the cannon of his mouth must be a screaming projectile of protest. Poets-at-arms unite, you have nothing to lose but your silence!

     The history of Philippine literature is replete with the reverberating voices of protest. Balagtas immortalized his protest against Spanish colonialism in Florante at Laura. Rizal’s Ultimo Adios sowed the seeds of nationalism in the hearts of thousands of Filipinos, many of who joined the revolutionary Katipunan movement. Severino Reyes, Juan Abad and other courageous Filipino playwrights, at the risk of paying stiff fines and serving long terms of imprisonment, wrote seditious plays during the Early American Occupation. In a more recent period Amado Hernandez fashioned barbed poems, which he hurled at a corrupt government backed up by American imperialism.

 

Two decades of fantasy have spawned their horrifying breed of werewolves and ghouls. A series of nightmarish scenarios were conjured, with the country as center stage: the Declaration of Martial Law, the Murder of Ninoy Aquino, the Great Peso Devaluation, and US$28 Billion Philippine Debt to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The worst is yet to come. Hence a poet cannot simply remain callous and indifferent to such harsh realities. His poems must mirror the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, if he is to become relevant to the evolution of his nation. He must follow the footsteps of his predecessors. He must write protest poems. He must crucify all dictators on the cross of infamy. What better way to condemn tyrants than to sentence them to oblivion thru protest poems? A poem is one of those few things on the printed page that have a staying power. A newspaper article loses its freshness the day after publication. A manifesto loses its potency d few hours after being read. But a poem, a poem has the magical property to leap across centuries and speak face-to-face with unborn generations.

 

In Latin America poets have successfully waged a war of attrition against dictatorial governments and U.S. imperialism. This praiseworthy tradition was spearheaded by Pablo Neruda, the Noble Prize winner form Chile, and Cesar Vallejo, Peru’s most famous poet. Today the number of protest poets in Latin America has quadrupled. Among the more distinguished names are Nicolas Guillen of Cuba, Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Columbia, Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua, Roque Dalton of El Salvador, Julio Cortazar of Argentina, and Carlos Fuentes of Mexico…

                                                         

The guerilla ranks of protest poets are growing day by day, while the stragglers of ivory tower poetry are deserting their besieged perimeters every second. After reading In Memoriam: A Tribute By Five Filipino Poets, thru the courtesy of the warrior-poet Cirilo Bautista who gave me a copy of this sheaf of poems, I have decided to try my hand at writing protest poems…

 

I also believe in brandishing poems like manifestos or placards to voice out my indignation over any controversy and issue under the sun, like in this poem in which I protested against what was a glaring case of racism upon reading a newspaper article which stated that the Federal Republic of Germany would embargo Philippine-made products if Filipinos don’t stop eating dog meat:

 

POEM IN PRAISE OF DOG-LOVING GERMANS

 

Herr Ubermensch, we have bad table manners,

That’s why we feast on our canine. We live

In a dog-eat-dog world, it’s sad to say,

Where hunger is the order of the day.

Herr Ubermensch, please do not embargo

The inferior goods that we sell to you;

If we cant get the money to buy hogs

We will truly starve and devour more dogs.

Herr Ubermensch, you’re such a flesh-eater

That you import our women as prime cuts.

Because their brown bodies are so tender,

They’re excellent sirloin in bed, mein herr.

Herr Ubermensch, we are third-world primates,

That’s why it is taboo to eat our pets,

But you who belong to the Master race

Have the kultur to roast men face to face.

Possessed with a sense of tumor and not just plain humor, so to speak, I am also fond of writing humorous and outrageously absurd poetry like the following..

 

CASUALTY RATE

 

All poets begin

On a white page

And most end up

Scrawling blank verse.

                     

 COPYCAT

 

One rainy night she

Accidentally slipped

On the banana peel

Of another writer’s

Imagination and died

Of internal hemorrhage:

The plagiarist.

 

CRAZY POET

 

One fine sunny day

While he was walking

Down the street in a daze

A brick of inspiration

Fell upon his head

And killed him instantly:

The crazy poet.

 

POETASTER

 

One hot afternoon

While crossing the highway he

Became the fatal victim

Of reckless imprudence

And was run over by

A cargo truck of cliché

 

LOVE SONG FOR MY TRASH CAN

 

Trash can of mine I love you:

Your vinyl lips so thin,

Smooth and red; your seductive

Gaping mouth, a warm abyss

With an insatiable

Passion for reams of crumpled

Hope scrawled with stillborn lines.

Trash can of mine I love you:

Paragon of openness

Whose supple, spacious breast is

A vanity museum

That flaunts like diamond tears

All my rubbish thoughts

And disposable feelings.

Muse of desperation who

Recycles visions and

Magnificent pyramids

Of rejection slips into

Crisp, blank, snow-white sheets of

Silence and shredded sighs.

 

or poems on ars poetica, or the craft of writing poetry itself, and those in praise of the Muse:

                                                         

ANTI-POEM

 

I say death to the poem:

Strangle all metaphors,

Electrocute all images,

Poison all rhymes,

Shoot all synechdoches,

Stab all allusions.

For heaven’s sake, stop being a poet

Just for once. Murder all nuances

That confound the reader

And beguile him to tread

A labyrinth of words;

For once, hide nothing from him,

Give him the gory head of a vision

On a bleeding platter

(It’s not your fault if he

Lacks a well-oiled heart).

Yes, give it to him straight

From the subconscious

Sans frills, sans artifice,

As visceral as possible—

Gash and gore—

The elemental gangrene of speech

Dripping with the smelly green

Pus of wisdom.

Shove it in his face:

Its eye sockets dark and deep,

Its caved-in nose;

A few molars missing,

Its cracked dome shining in the sun:

A sonnet’s grinning skull.

 

 CHAIN POEM

 

Handle this poem with care

And leave no sense unturned,

See what creeping nuances

Hide beneath each mossy word.

Touch the shape of its sound,

Hear the sound of its shape;

Make yourself truly worthy

To receive the poem’s blessing.

X, a young executive,

Read this poem recklessly and

Was struck down by lightning.

Y, a grass widow, crumpled

This poem for not rhyming

And was murdered in her sleep.

By now you know that this chain

Poem can cast a deadly curse.

Make seven copies and send

Posthaste to your enemies.

 

LOW PROFILE

 

It is a must

A poem should

Always keep

A low profile

Because nobody

Loves a loudmouth.

 

THE ART OF SAYING IT

 

The art of saying it

In a poem is not in

The manner of saying it,

Or what you want to say,

For poetry goes beyond

Mere artifice or skill,

Beyond meaning and sense.

The essence of a song

Is to be mute and silent,

Is to have exactly

Nothing to say and yet say

It in a grand way as if

You have something new to say.

 

 FEMME FATALE

Seduce her in your heart of hearts,

Embrace her in your dream of dreams,

Her presence is most palpable there.

But in this love-weary, forlorn world

Her nakedness is of pure air.

She is your ethereal muse

Whose strange fruit you cannot refuse.

Fathom the deeplessness of her eyes,

Swim in the ocean of her absence,

Prepare for a fatal encounter.

Succumb to her caressing voice

At the edge of a precipice

And clutch her cascading perfumed hair

Only to awaken and despair.

Decipher her hieroglyphic soul,

Unlock her inscrutable kiss.

Probe the eighth wonder of the world:

She has the body of a sphinx,

She flaunts a pair of angels’ wings,

She grows sharp talons on her feet,

She is every woman that you meet.

Unsheathe the mystery of her touch,

Unseal her sepulcher of silence:

She is the rose of intuition,

She is the fountainhead of art,

She is the altar of oblivion.

Her heart forever bleeds. She can feel

Your grief, she is your Achilles heel.

She visits you unexpectedly.

Behold her magnificence as she

Descends a ladder of rainbow.

She is the Eternal Virgin.

She is more than what you think she is:

Comforting mother, tragic mistress,

The root of your divine distress.

                                                         

POSTMODERN MUSE

 

The Muse of modern poetry

You and I will agree

Is a cheap Venus de Milo,

A blue plastic torso.

She has no arms and legs,

And crawls on her belly and begs;

O headless, heartless bitch

Who can’t scratch our poetic itch.

 

TELEGRAM

 

The Muse sends me

An urgent telegram

But I am often

Out of town or abroad

And it’s too late.

Inspiration doesn’t

Wait for someone

Who’s busy with

Other lesser matters.

Either you drop

Everything else

And heed her message

Or not at all.

How many songs

Have been lost this way?

Perhaps I should give

It full attention.

But I have other

Pressing obligations

And life must go on.

Perhaps I should buy

A cellular phone

And keep an open

Line to the Muse.

Art is a waiting game.

 

According to Aristotle it is a poet’s ability to wield metaphors that will make or break him, among hundreds of other esoteric poetic tools like axephalexis, bomphiologia, and synesthesia that are at his disposal. In the matter of saying things in a poetic manner, one must go by way of hints and subtlety and indirection, and using white-hot, incandescent language to create an epiphany or metaphysical orgasm on the part of poetry lovers.  It goes without saying that poetry is a manner of speaking in paradoxes, enigmas, and pure mystery. One has to reinvent language itself. One must avoid the direct, literal statement of prose, avoid clichés and worn-out phrases, expunge banal, commonplace images and recycle them into unique, provocative visions. One must hide the obvious, and express the inarticulate at the same time. Likewise, if the poet takes great effort and pain in crafting and birthing a poem–like an oyster injected with chemicals to produce the nacre of a cultured pearl–then the readers, too, must devote their precious time in prying loose the meaning of a poem with the crowbar of their imagination and understanding.

To quote the English poet C. Day Lewis in one of his poems:

The essence of poetry

Shall spring

In the not saying everything.

     Poetry is the simultaneous act of possessing the poem and being possessed by it. In the act of crafting a poem, I surrender to the spirit of the poem and allow it to possess me and to take whatever form and content it wishes. Only later in the act of revision, do I impose my modest knowledge of art and craft–consciously, rigorously, and with impunity. In terms of poetic voice, I cannot claim to own a single voice but speak in a multiplicity of reverberating voices. And in the act of writing poetry, I lose myself and discover my quintessence. I find a new dimension of enlightenment each time I create a poem and probe the darkest recesses of my soul. I write poetry with both a selfish, personal aim and a social motive. I write poetry to achieve spiritual enlightenment as well as to share my modest insights with my fellowmen. For one cannot receive wisdom and enlightenment without giving and sharing. Indeed, poetry is a magical, mystical act of losing one’s false identity and of discovering one’s true self and mirroring or reflecting the latter in the reader’s consciousness. It is therefore the immortality of the eternal moment or nirvana

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that I seek for, whether as a writer or as a reader of poetry, and not the kind of ridiculous romantic notion of immortality that most poets wish but only a minority achieve in absentia long after their physical extinction. As if, after their demise, they will still hover on our planet like an earthbound ghost, salivate like Pavlov’s poetic hounds, and enjoy the accolades showered upon them by future generations to laud their epic literary labors.

As a fitting conclusion, permit me to focus on a timely new poem in which I attempt to define my concept of immortality, and how, in the hellfire of poetic creation, both the poet and the poem emerge unscathed and evolve into measureless Eternity and into the unspeakable, unknowable shapelessness of the Supreme Being:

 

METAMORPHOSIS

 

As I write

This poem

The poem changes

Into something else

As I write

This poem

I change

Into someone else

Into more

Than myself

Into less

Than myself

Into more than

The poem

Into less

Than the poem

Into other

Than the poem

Into Eternity

Into God

The Poem

And I are

                                 — Chico, California

                                   July 10-14, 2001


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