Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Will to Be Lucid

Camus has a phrase that I love. It is “the will to be lucid.” Lucidity, clarity is not automatic; we must activity pursue it. That is, for me, what poetry is: a will to be lucid. People sometimes have difficulty with poetry because they find it more like an uninviting puzzle. Yet a poet, in his pursuit, is always after clarity. It is not mathematical clarity or logical clarity, but the clarity of shedding light on things often left unsaid and, therefore, not easily said. Those times you feel something but just can’t get it into words, those moments you know something but can’t articulate exactly what it is you know. Sometimes it’s a failure on our part to know the words that exist; sometimes it’s because no one has ever articulated that particular feeling or experience or knowledge before. Poets are always grasping for that. We are striving to give “to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” In all this struggle for words, this struggle with language, it is a struggle toward clarity.
George Oppen: from “Route”
Clarity, clarity, surely clarity is the most beautiful
thing in the world,
A limited, limiting clarity
I have not and never did have any motive of poetry
But to achieve clarity
Poetry, like all other arts, is about connections: connecting people to their environment and each other through meaning, because meaning is connection. Meaning binds the world together and poetry is the discovering, the disclosure of that meaning. As Muriel Rukeyser put it, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” Confusion of meanings is an exploding of these stories, a severance that can create discord not only in art but in society.
Rukeyser: From “Ballad of Orange and Grape”
I ask him : How can we go on reading
and make sense out of what we read? –
How can they write and believe what they're writing,
the young ones across the street,
while you go on pouring grape in ORANGE
and orange into the one marked GRAPE –?
(How are we going to believe what we read and we write
and we hear and we say and we do?)
He looks at the two machines and he smiles
and he shrugs and smiles and pours again.
It could be violence and nonviolence
it could be white and black women and men
it could be war and peace or any
binary system, love and hate, enemy, friend.
Yes and no, be and not-be, what we do and what we don't do.
Bertrand Russell described this another way. In describing modern physics’ relationship to matter he said, “It is the events that are the stuff of the world.” Matter is not as substantial as assumed in past philosophy and science; it is more events, relationships, as in music, the relationship of notes to create chords, and chords to create harmony. In this sense that confusion of meanings can even severe us from an understanding of the universe and plunge us into darkness.
Stafford: from A Ritual to Read to Each Other
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
Notice that “maybe” is among the clear signals given. Is “maybe” a lack of clarity? No more so than light itself that presents sometimes as waves and sometimes as particles, depending on how we look for it. Variable factors mean variable answers. Sometimes it’s “maybe.” The language of poetry directs us toward clarities in a variable, shifting universe, a universe flying apart, changing, a universe made of events and stories, yours and mine and how they interact. Poems thread those stories together, make a tapestry of our various colors and complexities. A successful poem is a crystallization of that will to be lucid that captures all the light needed to see, to focus it and present a path through the confusion, a music out of what was previously an oppressive silence.