Poetics In the Service of Sophia
Poetic storytelling is humanity’s oldest, most effective teaching tool. Imagine words as boxes, each one stuffed with multi-dimensional worlds of meaning. The words act as a kind of shorthand to relay bits of condensed information — facts, of a sort. Storytelling takes these facts, makes them anthropomorphic and infuses them with spirit. Poetry pries open the word boxes in order to free the sensual associations that encourage human brains to accept and integrate information.
A good raconteur roots her metaphors in the syntax of her listeners’ language and the context of their culture to establish empathy. Empathy is the bridge upon which Sophia — “the personification of wisdom; an amalgam of personal experience, acquired knowledge and Spirit” — travels across time and space from one person to another.
Sophia doesn’t always need words to span isolation. She prefers to transport herself along the more subtle paths of body language, instinct, intuition and eye contact. Nevertheless, as long as humankind persists in its delusion of separateness, narrative continues to be indispensable.
Poets are among Sophia’s greatest devotees. Poets long to be wise and to share their wisdom. Whatever their motivation — pain, surcease from sorrow, love, lust, injustice or joy — they seek to acknowledge that which drives them, to understand and transcend it. Having achieved this, however temporarily, they yearn to share their insight.
The poem is both crucible and distillation. It is a tightrope spun of words, flung across an abyss of ignorance by the good will of the poet. The poet has experienced within herself the fusion, which brings forth Sophia. Having experienced even a moment of wholeness, the poet knows herself blessed. From that moment her particular experience is set firmly in a matrix of commonality, and her poems become an antidote to the illusion of separateness. Though the poet knows the void to be illusory, she also knows how real it feels and so throws her lifeline anyway.
Gossip, that much maligned form of communication, is a prevalent form of storytelling. Unlike other ways of folk telling, it adapted to the twentieth century without missing a beat; moving easily from back fence to water cooler and humming along telephone wires almost as quickly as they could be strung. Today, OMG rumors twitter at the speed of lightning. Primal or modern, folks love to chinwag. Even Sappho stooped to gossip and modern poetry often uses the language of the coffee klatch to reveal painful truths.
People gossip because it gives them a chance to star in their own stories and to praise, coddle, scold and pass judgment on their sister heroines. No matter how dark the deed or bitter the anguish, some part of it can be presented to be laughed over, cried over and compared to other stories and adventures. Nothing is ever so bad or shameful that someone hasn’t a similar story to tell. The sharing of it weaves the teller’s pain into the larger frame of history and humanity and draws her back into the warmth of belonging, to the place where we remember that all the tales are our own.
However not all stories are shared publicly. Journals record one’s herstory and history more privately. Some diaries are bare accounts of comings and goings, but the most eloquent often presuppose an imaginary correspondent. These records can be a goldmine for the poet, offering an endless source of inspiration or the one-off perfect line on which to hang a poem. Odes often sound like journal entries — monologues addressed to a person or thing that cannot answer back. Sometimes they become rants. Ranting can be good for the soul. It offers a safety valve for rage against society’s ills. The poet becomes the spokesperson and scapegoat for those who remain mute out of fear or oppression.
Poetry cannot separate or abstract itself from Nature. Nature makes the metaphors, and it is a rare poem into which she doesn’t intrude at least one green tendril. Change is the nature of Nature. Poets revel in that dance and do not seek to freeze it in place. They know circumstanced are changeable as the weather and gather moments of beauty to comfort and console when things get rough. Realizing how quickly Earth’s kaleidoscope whirls, the artist strives to retain those moments when time stops and spirit fuses into perfect harmony with the life around it. Her poems become mandalas; charts for the soul, delineating the way back (or forward) to consciousness.
Poets tell their stories in many ways, from long epics that spin plots and create characters to the elusive Haiku that encodes human feeling in seventeen syllables. Because each poem is an alchemical transmutation in which the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts, the poet cannot help but grow and live more richly as she continues to compose.
To grow, to live more richly, is to love increasingly well. All poems are love poems. They say: “I see you so clearly. Allow me to love you.” They also say: “I long for you to see me clearly because then you will love me.” Poets know that “perfect understanding casts out fear” and that love is the absence of fear. Fear of rejection, fear of misunderstanding, fear of desolation — these things retard what Kierkegaard has called a “leap of faith.” To leap, the poet must put herself in service to Sophia and trust in her own wisdom.