Thursday, March 1, 2018

The experience of contact

Poetry is most deeply a way of doing philosophy – not as mere juggling of abstractions, but as lived and felt experience. This is how the twentieth century avant-garde used it, as a way to construct and inhabit a worldview. Ancient Chinese thought is a crucial influence driving the innovations of that tradition – and it makes perfect sense, for the Taoist/Ch’an conceptual framework represented a fuller and more coherent account of the radical insights that were ripe for realization in the West. And like China’s ancient artist-intellectuals, that avant-garde took contact as its central concern, certain that only in empirical immediacy was it possible to achieve authenticity in living, and clarity in who and where we are.

Contact, the primacy of the immediate: it is not such a difficult idea, but in terms of actual experience, the stuff of life and poetry, it is a difficult lesson we must learn over and over. Contact itself is unsayable precisely because it lies outside all concepts, but…poets, each in their own way, guide us to the experience of contact. They show us new ways of being alive to the world in the tangible here and now. And from that beginning point, they explore the implications of that elemental experience, most importantly a different sense of self-identity: Thoreau’s who we are. This line of poetic thought represents a lived form of deep ecology, the “rewilding” of consciousness. It involves ways of knowing ourselves outside of received Western assumptions; and so, not surprisingly, it is often informed by other cultures, especially ancient Chinese and primal cultures. Hence, the poets in this innovative tradition establish consciousness as wild each in their own way, together creating their own wilderness: “the wilds of poetry.”

Central to this for most poets is the way they push language into wild forms in various ways: organic and open-field, breath-driven, text-interspersed with fields of open space/silence, fragmentation and collage. Language is the medium of thought, essence of self-identity, so by rewilding language they rewild identity. And it makes sense this rewilding often takes place in the context of wilderness, where the cocoon of human culture is absent and the vastness of the Cosmos is most dramatically and immediately present. As a philosophical instrument, poetry is especially powerful because it can operate in that wilderness, open experience to the silent depths outside of language and thought, reveal areas of consciousness outside our language-centered day-to-day identity. Prose can talk about this, but poetry can enact it through its reshaping of language. It can create wild mind as immediate experience for the reader. 

– David Hinton