“The poet, who wishes not to play games with words, his affair being to awaken dangerous images/and call the hawks” – Robinson Jeffers
In this line from the epic poem Give your Heart to the Hawks (1933), Jeffers, the most necessarily serious American poet of the 20th century, reminds us that while we may enjoy our love affair with language, we do not exist as poets in the world to merely play sonorous, visual or otherwise clever games, to entertain the bored public with linguistic juggling acts, to otherwise become trite, digestible, accessible, safe. No, poets are required to seek deeper missions – even the thought of which is scoffed at in our era which lauds the superficial and wants to smash those who feel called to the real. Dangerous images – what are these? Anything we fear ourselves and so what we must turn towards first, or eventually, or die as artists. Who are the hawks? That which can feast on us, remain alien, inhabit other orders of existence far fiercer than our own. This, what we must court. What does this have to do with making a living from one’s writing, or being thought successful or winning contests or attaining supposed immortality? Nothing of course – the path is much more obscure than any of these considerations. Jeffers lived on the edge of the sea, he planted trees, he lugged up rocks, he wrote long lines of salt and cypress and blood. The rest is silence.
“They talk so much about art, but really, education is just as much a barrier between a man and real art as it is in other parts of life. They don’t know what a mean old bitch art can be.” Magnus Eisengrim by Canadian novelist, Robertson Davies. In this sentence from the novel World of Wonders (1975), Eisengrim contrasts his own approach to existence, apparently raw, untutored, harsh, acknowledging of the inexplicable mysteries, with those who are more able to analyze, assess, discuss but who perhaps miss out on the colder, more violent, even sacrificial aspects of living as an artist. After reading this line, I wrote down:
Canadian poets are too desiring of: 1/categorization 2/success 3/conventionality and perhaps ironically 4/experimentalism
What do I mean? We think we need to streamline our “voice” or define our genre/forms or limit the mediums we work in as in this way we are more likely to have success in whatever modes we imagine it. This success will also arrive more readily if we ally ourselves with an academy, degrees and this system of patronage. Further, if we aim to write in “game ways” that privilege the intellect’s processing over the emotions’ channels then we can more easily be taught and thus enter the canon. (yes there is also the easy sentimentality school but that too is less aurally and emotively based and more about image, symbol, the facile parallel and in the end, parable conclusiveness than much else). But this is not reality – as Eisengrim spits out – art can be a mean old bitch – entailing struggle, suffering of various kinds, no ready-made trail to the goal-line.
Never opposed to scholarship itself, nor to humour & play as elements in writing, but to the co-opting of alternate options and to the devaluation of the writer who believes art matters & lives for it every day. Jeffers. Eisengrim. I get you guys.