not for everyone.
by Jimmy Warner Jan. 2008
Urn - beauties and naked truth
My work is naughty at times, suggestive, out right nasty at times. Truth and
beauty is not all ye need to know when Truth and Beauty go down on each
other to seize the day. My take on poetry may be more irreverent than the
trendier and loftier poets, but I do not wish to worship the same holy cows as
my generation Ė their politics in particular. I praise no man or god above any
other, neither religion, ethics nor ethnicity. I write for American culture by
virtue of my language, and only vaguely out of patriotism, though I have none toward
any other nation. I do not root for the downfall of anyone nor their corruption.
I may be a realist one day, a dreamer the next. I will seek the blemish in the
rose or the pearl in the swill. I will sit on the fence when I sense everyone
losing perspective Ė even take the devil's advocate position just to see
who laughs. Comedy is the greatest truth. Every time my audience laughs I learn
something. Beauty is even more illusive and private, where often obsessive
images reveal a magic you can see.
If this writing is to be instructive let me begin with topics,
what to write
about. There are no taboos, but some things turn most people off, and according
to a youthful generation, turn some people on. I have not finished the laws of
taste compendium, which I suspect will always have a surprise ending. Iím not
crazy about cuss words, the seven bad words censored by network TV, or
pejorative expressions unless this is your cultural milieu. As my significant other
and cultural critic says: Itís OK to quote someone, even if you donít name them
or feel the same way. To me, a topic is something you observe, are drawn to, are
bowled over by, left holding as a result of, stuck with, sick of, in love with,
dream of someday, want to speak up about, clear the air over, feel ashamed of,
proud of, and just plain canít stay away from, or as Dylan Thomas said, makes
you prickle Ė my favorite. Donít write for your audience, but observe their
reactions carefully and donít keep repeating yourself if something doesnít work
Ė look for other ways to make it work. What to write about is wide open. A poem
can be about anything, abstract, dreary, joking, narrative, lyrical, lofty,
lampooning, limerick, dismal, disparaging, lustful, passionate, extreme,
nitpicking, fearful, argumentative, reverent, prophetic, visionary and inane.
where life takes you.
Rhyme: Unnecessary but useful. Some see it as serious, others as making fun. You
can use it either way. It echoes qualities, or reduces and simplifies qualities.
It can hammer home an idea or make you look foolish. Be careful. A fool can
also reveal truth without dire consequences. As for echoing, it was believed in
antiquity that an echoing tomb preserved the souls of the dead. Ask yourself
what you are preserving. Repeating lines can be as powerful as rhyme.
Unusual diction is the hallmark of an experimental poet, wordsmiths can be
irritating to some, big words, intellectualizing on specialized subjects, just
plain boring. You must prepare your audience for these presentations. Be up
front, your distance will only put them to sleep. Fear? Take an aspirin or drink
a beer Ė there is no respect for novices, only one-time virgins. It is possible
to present any subject. You have to find your delivery style and be convincing.
If they donít believe you and laugh, perhaps you have discovered something. Talk
to your audience, stop and break it down. Ask for opinions, show hands, I
sometimes pass around pictures. Comic asides can work as well.
Rhyme schemes, if it matters to you, give a quick lesson, otherwise it will be
lost on them. I like to make up my own schemes and name them something exotic or
22 lines, 7 syllables each, PI Modal (22/7 = PI) or call it PI a la mode.
Symbolism, allegory and metaphor will elude even a sophisticated, well-educated
audience. People do not know all the gods and goddesses that were commonly
studied in earlier centuries and on the tips of 19th century tongues.
These are the holy cows of another generation which was eventually rejected. Of
course, I use them all the time, like truth and beauty, interjecting them into
modern situations, like a muse or misanthropic figure, maybe a sub-reference to
a parallel hell. Your classical knowledge and expertise in form and literary
history will hardly win you any prizes from the general public. Try if you will
to explain it and you wonít likely be going home with anyone. Make fun of it,
perhaps and the tide may turn, you have to set it up just like a joke, as
Robert Frost once said. Poetry and humor share a format.
Symbolism, allegory and metaphor are forms of balloon making. Lead balloons
donít float. Too many ideas in one launch will bring it crashing down. Three is
a good number, but I have gotten away with fewer and as many as five Ė Mozart
could sustain six for twenty minutes Ė but thatís music. Donít attempt a
juggling act or three ring circus unless the whole tent is on board Ė a play or
opera may be better suited. As my mentor, Shann Palmer says, ďDonít put too many
entrees on the table.Ē
*What Is A Symbol? A symbol is a picture or representational object, plant,
animal or person, sometimes a place that can be communicated in a word or
phrase, like Capistrano, which suggests that there is more to the image than what
can be seen. At face value it may have a literal message or interpretation, but
on closer examination the picture may tell a more complete story and offer up
many other swallow-like associations. This phenomenon is called correspondence,
a connection between the picture and a reality that never seems out of date.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined three types of symbols:
literal symbols used in everyday
allegorical symbols found in antiquity
and used for representational heroes in literature and theater; and finally,
Symbols, also found in antiquity, but
because they are primal, timeless and never run out of new applications, they
are considered to be growing, alive or animate.
symbol is different from the hero of an allegory because it has an inexhaustible
supply of relevance, meaning and philosophy which could be interpreted as
helpful, inspirational or enlightening. It is the difference between an
allegorical character who, for example, represents truth, honesty and integrity
as identified by his drapery, insignia or what have you, and a numinous mythical
figure, possibly religious or prophetic, who may be many characters wrapped into
one and who comes with a philosophy which can be readily applied to a situation.
symbols can have an organic quality, a living essence, (you
allow them to grow) which makes them easy to use as a mental nudge or reminder
when looking for solutions to literary problems. They operate, for example, like
the sun, always returning for a new day or like a famous or heroic person who
has attributes, qualities, an agenda or a list of good deeds and bad. Poets can
use mythology and astrology to illustrate that which was believed to originate
in the stars and planets, (as above, so below) but which need only originate in
the idea which you form in your mind after study and experience. The larger
metaphor of the pictures in the stars can be applied to a poetic here and now.
go beyond the literal and do not end with a few philosophical summaries or
scenarios of life. Like the lotus or rose there is an inexhaustible supply of
petals, meanings, applications, and inspirations. It is possible to meditate on
a single metaphor and never come to the end of its relevance.
A metaphor has many moving parts, a (old: metaphier and a metaphorand),
(new: tenor, vehicle and ground) as well as many
sub-referenced particles which create a landscape of symbolism. It can become
your own made up world or a new take on reality. The renewing lotus petals can
also become sharks teeth, growing in row after row. One metaphor can lead you
down a very long road or leave you tired and dusty.
Symbol, myth and metaphor as Joseph Campbell says contain truth but not in the
form of 'what really happened'.
It's easy to come down on the near side of myth and excuse it away as 'never
happened'. But there are devotees of myths of local color such as John Henry,
Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan who see the larger truth and are not mislead by the
fantasy - mainly because the local sensibilities that created the myths in the
first place are still respected, revered and perpetuated. They live there.
If you dismiss Odysseus as figment and 'no mermaids sang' as Robt. Haas (
Time and Materials) did so, jokingly I hope, you must be willing to
explore other examples of Odysseus in real life. There IS the myth and then
there are other men LIKE him, heroes we do not want to forget though they may
not have become great literature. Who has not known the leader of a gang, a
bandleader, a captain or a CEO who has fallen for a Siren beckoning to him. His
group of followers rally to prevent him from making a great mistake, keep him
from going overboard or turning the ship about. You can put into metaphor every aspect
of such a story and still relay truth. Metaphor preserves the beauty. By
associating one idea with another you are showing without telling.
There may be dwindling patience for such writing in the belief that everything
great and classical has already been written. Don't call yourself a scholar in
that case, but let it be known you are lazy in your artistic expansion. I love
nothing better than an accidental classicist who discovers new and original ways
to render old ideas modern. I forget who said there were only seven themes in
literature, but even HE did not bother to name them. The book is still open.
Creation is something you do often, not something you plan for.
If you can make a symbol out of say a politician for instance, please do so. I'm
sick of all the meaningless rhetoric about promise and experience and change and
pie in the sky. Besides, Santa Claus is a far better symbol.
what to write
about. There are no taboos, but some things
like birth, death, sex, religion, politics and money turn most people off,
although occasionally turn some people on. Morality is another bug-a-boo,
sobriety, obeying laws, all are part of that libretto of man's personal opera
that no-one will ever ask you to sing (well, maybe some late night in the ER).
If I had not stolen this pencil I would not be writing this now.
On the other hand I enjoy watching others squirm and relish the laughter when I
retreat to my seat on the fence. My all-time favorite didactic tomes revolve
about the eternal trip to hell, the return trip optional. This is no doubt the
greatest adventure man can undertake. My backpack is fortified with enough
Campbell's super hero scenarios to get me through any hell, any wilderness of
the soul and hopefully return or at best, come back weird. It was said of
Charles Baudelaire that he chose to descend, liked it there and decided it was
not worth the effort to come back.
My personal morality centers on the struggle and not the should oughta
commandments we are so tired of hearing.
Ultimately the spiritual, cosmic connection, what-are-you- doing-here question
boils down to the exploration of freedom, the nature of nature, and the antics
of truth and beauty no matter how you encounter them, or where.
Symbolism: see my essay
Occult Symbolism and How it Works
Photo by Eugene Brown