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Soma sensing and poetry


There are three ongoing discussions in different threads that I think speak to the same objective(s). For lack of a better catch phrase I'll call it soma sensing and poetry. The sheer beauty of the discussions is that, while the objective may be the same, the interstice in which the means show themselves clearly allows for different approaches.

In Discussion I there is the thread Dragonman started and called 'Returning to Some Other Kind of Poetry.' In the Poetry Spectrum there is the exchange generated by Steveman's poem, "Passing Strange Food Mouth to Mouth," and that brought to my mind Rimbaud's famous notion he called the disorganization of all the senses. Also in the Poetry Spectrum there is an exchange, more a digression, following on my poem "Moveable Feast" where Steve puts into perspective crazy Artaud's notions concerning his theater of cruelty and which enables me to put Artaud in the right, Dionysian, context. A part of me thinks I should copy and paste from the discussions to here by way of orientation. But if I do that the thread could become burdensome before it gets started. So I refer to the exchanges as a starting point, damn the torpedoes, and jump into the middle.

Here is the sweet and exquisite thing for me. There is no one way, no one vein, no one chromosomal string with which poetry speaks to the soma. Similarly, and riffing on what Steve has said, there is no one part of the body speaking poetry. This is my middle starting point. And I could stop right here because that pretty much says it all. Immediately it becomes clear that poetry does not begin in the poet's head. Even that as a processing center the brain has no priveliged position. All the body's organs process information (thank you Lawrence), all the body's cells, all the body's genes with the damn near limitless mutations they are capable of. To me it is axiomatic, probably it isn't for others, that poetry not speaking to my body on the cellular level is not poetry. Similarly poetry that doesn't sweat out of my cells is not poetry. Memory bank is going back through the data collected, back before the Gilgamesh poem even, back to ancient Egyptian love poetry, back to primitive song, and I can't pull up one instance when this is not true of the kind of poetry outliving the poet.

Here is something of what I mean. One of my favorite groups of poets are the Goliards (mostly wandering scholar) of the high Middle Ages and who were the last poets to vitally work in Latin. One translator says this about the Carmina Burana set of poems: "The joy of spring, to us largely a literary convention, was a genuine experience to people of the Middle Ages, whether they lived in town or country, in monastary or shepherd's hut. The coming of the new year (March) brought a rapture of deliverance." (Italics mine) And about the Carmina Burana set of love songs and drinking songs and songs of raw experience he says: "The urge of the mating season is implicit in these projections of poetic fancy and no other human considerations are permitted to interfere. The poems are no more acccountable to morality than the flowing of the sap." (Italics mine)

Something else occurs to me. It is a bloody shame that Dante got misappropriated by the Church, and is still tagged as Christendom's greatest poet. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anybody who has read his La Vita Nuova gets his paganness, gets his insistence on soma sensing, and gets his fascination with the kind of psychology behind romantic love. Blake said it best when he said Dante's hell is far more evokative and far more interesting than is his Paradise. One scholar has called Dante the supreme realist far more interested in the here and now than in the afterlife. Speaking for myself Dante's hell speaks to my whole body. I had to apply myself like a scholar to get through the other two books and I think it is because the poet himself was having to apply himself to get through the afterlife. It simply didn't interest him.

Then there is the case of Milton. All I remember from his Paradise Lost and Regained, all that spoke to my whole body, was the sympathetic tension with which he covered the case of Lucifer, the fallen angel, and the carnality between his Adam and Eve. For me the rest is a wash. I would argue that Milton himself is to blame and not me. In spite of himself, what spoke to the body spoke to him poetically.

These are examples given at random, which is not entirely true. Dante and Milton get pulled up to illustrate that poetry is about soma sensing no matter the prevailing ideology or the world historical moment. And I could go on with so many examples. I mean, what is Akhmatova about if she is not about the insistence on the body, the whole body, to pleasure itself in spite of a state religion for whom the individual is nothing, the collective everything? And has anyone ever wondered why those two supreme Victorian poets, the Brownings, took themselves off to Florence, a place where what is of the body is celebrated? And could they have evoked the senses the way they did back in England? It is a fair question. Victorean England may lay claim to Robert and Elizabeth, but they exiled themselves for reasons, I would argue, having to do with sensual health.

Soma sensing. Whether it is of the phenomenal or the numinous (as is the case of mystic poetry) or anything in between heaven, hell, and earth, that is the case of poetry.

Got more thoughts and hoping to get back more thoughts but I got to run. (will edit typos later)

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Dec/25/2009, 7:51 pm
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Re: Soma sensing and poetry


It's hard to put this all into words, isn't it? This is the very topic about poetry where words fail, and cannot get at the truth. I know it's heresy for some poets to say that there are some things that poetry can't say, that it isn't always the best way to get at some truths. But so I do say.

You've talked about the soma before, and I quite agree with most of what you've said about it: the real poem being that one that gets you in the guts, the soma, the kinesthetic body. I agree with your basic thesis.

And there are indeed many ways to get at this truth. There are clouds of terminology, both general and specialized, that approach this truth.

Yet none of them really completely encapsulate it, or rather, none of them grasp it more than provisionally and temporarily. We keep circling around it because it's hard to pin down. my own growing distrust of the power of words is caused directly by the inability to pin this somatic aspect of poetry down. I find it much easier to invite, to describe, and to activate, in non-verbal artforms. Movies like "Baraka," some specific pieces of music, some visual artwork, all give me that gut-punch.

Some poet once said to me, in a similar discussion, "Well, you're just talking about the poetic content of music, etc." To which I can only reply: That's the poet's unique set of blinders. In fact, one can just as easily say that we're talking about the music in poetry, the architecture in dance, the radiant sound of painting. I sometimes think the only way to really get at this is via full-sensorium synaesthesia. Which I certainly do experience when an artwork, in whatever media(s), does hit me in the gut.

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Dec/26/2009, 1:38 pm Link to this post Send Email to Dragon59   Send PM to Dragon59
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Soma sensing and poetry


Of course you are right, Dragonman, and pretty much with everything you say. In conversation, essentially a discursive art, we are all like a child who has not learned to talk yet and is reduced to pointing at what she wants. This is the spirit in which I proceed: pointing at what I want, knowing I can't name it adequately.

Something else too maybe. And this too I hope is received in the spirit in which it is intended. Not all people are as talented as others. Speaking for myself I do not have music, dance, or painting at my fingertips. All I have are words. It is my limitation. But I've discovered over the years that in every limitation there is a strength: it can force you to sharpen treatment of your own materials. Like a blind man, say, whose sense of hearing is forced to compensate for what he cannot visually take in and so becomes more acute. Accepting his limitation he none the less proceeds.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Dec/26/2009, 4:14 pm
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Re: Soma sensing and poetry


Tere,

Interesting the connection you are making between soma sense and mysticism. I don't believe a mystical experience can occur without soma sense.

I'll be back to say more, but for now I just wanted to offer a poem by Jane Hirshfield that this thread has reminded me of:

The Envoy

One day in that room, a small rat.
Two days later, a snake.

Who, seeing me enter,
whipped the long stripe of his
body under the bed,
then curled like a docile house-pet.

I don't know how either came or left.
Later, the flashlight found nothing.

For a year I watched
as something -- terror? happiness? grief? --
entered and then left my body.

Not knowing how it came in,
Not knowing how it went out.

It hung where words could not reach it.
It slept where light could not go.
Its scent was neither snake nor rat,
neither sensualist nor ascetic.

There are openings in our lives
of which we know nothing.

Through them
the belled herds travel at will,
long-legged and thirsty, covered with foreign dust.

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Re: Soma sensing and poetry


When we talk about soma sense in poetry, we talk about experiencing the shiver or a punch to the gut, the loss of breath, and so on. All highwater hallmarks, but I want to put in a word for smaller, more circumscribed soma sensations as well: the momentary tremor that doesn't quite become a shake, the flushed face, sweaty palms, cramped shoulder, itchy cheek. I'm only being partially facetious here. With all due respect to Emily, sometimes a good poem doesn't have to take the top of your head off; it might merely tickle on your tongue. emoticon

Last edited by Katlin, Dec/26/2009, 10:47 pm
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Re: Soma sensing and poetry


As Dragonman points out I've touched on the topic before and elsewhere. I can't remember if I broached it in the old TCP days. I do remember bringing it up in the old poets.org days. Still, I am not satisfied the exploration has gone far enough.

It occurs to me there are two poems up in the Poetry Spectrum speaking quite viscerally to my soma. What is striking is that, procedurally, they could not be more different. There is Zakman's Potato poem and Steveman's Passing Strange Food poem. I am not sure what it means, that two such disparate poems can speak to me sensually. But I am sure that the thing, again for lack of a better term, of soma sensing poetry is larger than any one aesthetic, program, school, tradition, style, even a poet's own stylistic bundling of syntax and sense. To me this is huge. Dragonman also points to as much, or to something similar at least, when he talks about a third kind of poetry. For me this other kind of poetry is what speaks to the body and variously. As variously, say, as a mother's touch can speak to a newborn baby's body. Again I think this is huge about poetry. Can other art forms do the same? Of course. But strictly speaking read poetry does not amount to a sensual experience, not in the way music is heard, a painting seen, etc. So how the hell can poetry force the body to react? I don't know. Maybe it has something to do with brain receptors getting triggered or even tricked into a response when the imagination images what we read. (bad pun I know) I don't know. There has to be some sort of neurological or bio-chemical matrix involved, which, of course, is the business of science, not poetry, not even poetry theory. That poetry can, in a sense, enter the body, is all we need to know about. And that the soma sensing involved transcends all the biases poets are want to fight over endlessly rather points to a parochial narrowness of such in-fighting.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bronze_Horseman_(poem)

http://web.ku.edu/~russcult/culture/handouts/bronze_horseman.html

I've got another favorite poem involving soma sensing. It is Pushkin's "The Bronze Horseman." The first link is to a Wiki article telling what the poem is about. The second link is to a translation of the poem. I've not read the article yet. I'll assume it leaves out two biographical aspects of Pushkin's life that, in all likelihood, were in the substratum of the poem's making. First, there is that Pushkin was either the grandson or great grandson of an Egyptian slave brought to St Petersburg and who became a favorite to a Tsar. Consequently, as his descendent, Pushkin was raised and treated preferentially. Almost an aristocrat, with the emphasis placed on almost, meaning he could never be fully accepted by the high society into which he had entrance. Secondly Pushkin's Tsar exiled the poet to his estate for extended periods of time because of bad behavior. None of which I knew when I read the poem.

So the River Nev floods the streets of St. Petersburg, as it would do annually, since, Peter the Great built it on a marsh. And one night the equestrian statue of Peter leaps to life. It leaps down and chases down the now terrified poet. That is it. That is pretty much the poem's drammatic moment. And it does not take place in the poet's imagination. The action is quite real. (Eat your heart out E.A. Poe.)

The first time I read the poem I felt the poet's terror. I could feel the horse's breath on the back of my neck. I could feel the violence of Peter's determination when he would decide on a course of action that was often murderous. And I could feel the floodwaters impeding my steps, dragging against me. I was reminded of how afraid I was once at the age of ten or so walking home from school on a road of palmetto scrub and scrub oak, with no homes or shelters in sight, and I got caught in a squall. Because of the lightening I knew I couldn't get under a tree. And so I had to stay in the open. That is the order of awe-fullness Pushkin's poem put me in mind of. The kind that shakes down the body. And I felt in my body the terror of his recognition that in the father-face of absolute authority he was powerless. And check out the metaphor even. It was an idea Pushkin bodied out in his bronze horseman. One that speaks to the terror brought about by all absolute authority. And to the powerlessness over one's own fate. Talk about the personal political!

Maybe it is important to know Pushkin was a proud man. He died in a duel defending his wife's honor. Maybe it is also important to know that a Russian boy of sixteen, half-slav and half-tartar, was once asked who he thought was Russia's greatest poet. He looked at me as if I was unlettered and said, "Pushkin, of course."

(Coming to our senses, variously, and through poetry - next thought for later)

Tere
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Re: Soma sensing and poetry


Yes, Katfriend. And a tickle on the tongue has perfect felicity. Nicely said.

Tere
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I agree about limitations, and I completely agree with this:

But I've discovered over the years that in every limitation there is a strength: it can force you to sharpen treatment of your own materials. Like a blind man, say, whose sense of hearing is forced to compensate for what he cannot visually take in and so becomes more acute. Accepting his limitation he none the less proceeds.

There's a lot of truth to this, in finding one's strengths from within one's limitations, emphasizing the strengths and working within the weaknesses. And there's a lot of wisdom in knowing oneself well enough to know what one's limits are.

And there's also something to overcoming one's limits. Pushing back the boundaries by constantly pushing against them. I'm of the opinion that anyone, and I do mean anyone, can expand their self-image and skillset—I've seen it happen, even in some people no one ever believed it could happen in. The flip side is that the thing that keeps us from going beyond our limits is that we don't believe we can.

We all have limits. And I do think that the struggle to overcome them is very much worth the battle. And sometimes we DO overcome them.

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Re: Soma sensing and poetry


Perhaps, Dragonman, we are speaking at cross-purposes. My comments about strengths and weaknesses are restricted to the topic of an artist's chosen medium. A painter, no matter what has influenced her, is limited to what the eye can take in. A composer, again no matter the influence, is limited to what the ear can take in. A poet, and still no matter the influence, is restricted to words. There is no way of getting around the fact that poetry is a literal art form, the word being its operative unit. Even dance, what can take in word and music, is still limited to body language.

Sure the media can get mixed, as in the case of opera. But each part gets separated out and parsed. The libretto has to work on its own terms, as does the music, the voice, the dance movement, the scene setting. This is the sense in which I meant my comments about a medium's limitation. As a poet I am forced to work within the limitations of my medium. The limitation forces me time and time again to seek out the exact right word, right syntactical sense, right line rhythm.

As pedestrian as it may be that is all I meant.

Tere
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Re: Soma sensing and poetry


I understand.

I disagree.

My disagreement is based on my experiences an artist working in several media, and in multimedia.

For example: sure, one can take apart the words and the music of a song, but it is the synergy of words AND music, together, that makes the song. Most song lyrics would never stand alone as poems written on the page; the conventions are not always the same as "pure" poetry's. But when you combine the words-and-music into its own synergisitc, unitary artform, all parts become a greater whole than they are individually. (The very definition of synergy.) So taking it apart is destructively and reductively analytical; one questions what insights can be gained, beyond a certain point.

And there are plenty of famous opera librettos that are really bad, lame, horrible dramatic poetry—until you add the music to it. Very few libretti can stand on their own, as poetry or as drama, alone. It's the music-and-words together that makes it happen; never either the music alone, or the words alone.

Painting is not limited to sight only. Painting is not actually only a two-dimensional artform. Because the texture of the paint is tactile, and and not merely flat on the canvas or board: it affects the way light falls on the painting. In the case of a multi-layered lucite painting such as some of Robert Rauschenberg's, there are three-dimensional depths within the painting, which change depending on where you stand, and angle of refraction, etc.

I have recently taken up woodcarving (again), feeling the need to do something three-dimensional again. (I also made a couple of new landscape art sculptures in my garden, before the snows came this winter.) I bought myself a set of Dremel rotary tools, and I have now made several relief-sculptures on slabs on wood. I think of them as sketches, as practice-pieces; only one or two approaching being finished art. Hanging on the wall, they look pretty two-dimensional—but they have a tactile component, and the light affects the way the shadows fall on the elements in relief.

So, as I say, I understand. But I think it's really "inside the box" thinking to insist on either the limitations of the artform, or on the limitations of the artist. Without our constant attempts to exceed both of those limits, and the limits of the materials we work with, nothing new would ever get invented; all art would be repetition.

My basic point here is echoed in a quote from Richard Bach's novel "Illusions":

"Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they're yours."

None of this is to deny limitations. But neither is it to accept them at face value, without questioning them.

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Terreson Profile
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Re: Soma sensing and poetry


Dragonman, more than words are needed to make real real.

Tere
Dec/28/2009, 1:18 am Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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I am not knowledgeable enough to participate in this thread, but I can tell you, Dragon, that you are going to love that Dremel drill...for me it opened late a whole new way to work...and it will always give you texture and dimension, even if it is very subtle. You can touch it and feel it. Every line in the following is etched into clayboard with a drill before paint or ink is ever used...it gives it a dimension that cannot be fully appreciated in a scan or photo, and drilling is an unforgiving medium...no way to put back something once it is removed...alas. : )

Image


Happy drilling, all...for words, lines, texture, whatever!

Pat

---
"Don't you worry--I ain't evil, I'm just bad".
~Chris Smither~
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Terreson Profile
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Re: Soma sensing and poetry


Resurrrecting a thread that goes back to Dec., '09. I never actually got around to saying what I think. This packet of notions involving soma sensing, soma knowledge, knowing things with the whole body, not with the head alone, I got, ironically enough, from an intellectual. M. Berman. He was looking to redress a problem he viewed as attendent on Western Civ, one ushered in by the creation of scientific methodology. It seemed to him that, for all its successes, science has voided us of the capacity for knowing experience with all of the body, not just conceptually or with the intellect alone. He wrote his two big books in pursuit of his theme in the 80s, which is when I read them. But actually there was a poet who, long before, covered the same ground. T.S. Eliot coined the phrase, dissociation of sensibility, in or before 1921. For Eliot the Metaphysical poets, John Donne and co., were the last poets in the West for whom thought was an experience and that that thought could affect sensibility. "When a poet's mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man's experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet experiences are always forming new wholes."

There is no difference, viewed essentially, between Eliot's address and Berman's. Same problem approached from different angles.

About 10 years ago I made a poem. I did what Eliot was never able to do, what he desperately wanted to do. I put flesh and blood on a thought. Bodied it out. I did what Berman was not equipped to do, being an intellectual and not a poet. I made sensual what it means when you submit your brain to your body's inspection. It occurs to me that, what, that artists, women, children, dreamers, and people who are depressive types, all musers, do exactly that. They submit their brain to their body's inspection. Funny and telling that these types are considered non-productive members of society, since, non-contributive.

But here is what I mean in language I am most familiar with.


Soma Sense

The way black raven calls. But perhaps
you too, my more sensible friend,
have heard the bass in his voice
when he wings it through currents between
ridge blade shoulders of rock outcrop;
and the crevice catch his tongue turns on
while feathers like fingers deftly play
semi-tone tensions in the wind.

He sings an intelligent song.
But, if intelligent, what responds
is a resonance between my thighs;
the seat of where we body know
how the whole, the scent of animate tale
from slime green seamount to
conifer carpet keeps encoded
in formative field of memory.

Once I was a membrane, a tissue
of fish gill window in the stream.
Then I became a flying fish.
Then I traded the silver scales
to dry out. To yearn. To doubt.
While he has kept the outland son,
a kissing cousin to
the storied, dark daughter.

How raven who opens the back door in
noon sky when
the blue bodied atmosphere
is the excitable cell you cannot cut
or partition, not without
killing the whole to view the part.

Lately, that surgeon has said he needs a rest.
But you told him, sensible friend,
and raven sputtered when you said:

"You would do better to get laid, professor,
to sink inside the red of her bloom
big bottom until
the shudder seizes you. Ceremonial."

Tere
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