Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


Poetry & Perception


Many of my poems reflect a continuing interest in perception and how we try to capture fleeting moments with language. The art that comes closest to what I’m trying to do in poetry is photography, the exploration of things in the world (and in ourselves) from various angles. The attempt to penetrate surfaces by using the very surfaces themselves.  

I just re-read a piece in an old issue of Round Table Review that has helped me to understand what I’m after in poetry. In an article entitled “This Talk of ‘Soul’: What Does It Mean?,” Mary Stamper quotes James Hillman from his work Revisioning Psychology: “By soul I mean, first of all a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing in itself.  This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens.  Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground…  (qtd. in Round Table Review, Jan/Feb 1995, 7). 

I’m trying to get into my poems the way we actually perceive the world, inner and outer, from the soul’s perspective, how the two collide and collude in the brain, the poem a reflection of that activity.  Charles Olson and Denise Levertov were after the shape of the inner voice—they tried to capture how that sounded on the page.  Others try to recreate the external world in traditional lyrics, or narratives, or some combination of the two.

I want the dimension in-between, where both come together; it’s a more accurate rendering of how we perceive. It seems only art and dreams can begin to duplicate that world for us. This idea connects to what Stamper says: “This means death of the notion that things appear to the soul in the same way that they appear in everyday contexts, that soul understands things in the same way that our egos do” (Round Table Review, Jan/Feb 1995, 8).

I also see a relationship between impressionist and some kinds of abstract paintings and the poetry I want to write—of just suggesting something. Giving only enough information/detail to set the imagination working. I don’t want everything spelled out. I want mystery in my poems, new worlds. Or as Mark Rothko responded when he was visiting Greece and someone there commented on Rothko’s striped paintings: “‘Why don’t you paint our temples.’ Rothko replied, ‘Everything I paint is a temple.'”

I’d like to think that everything I write is one. There seems some evidence for the idea that we are changed by the things we create—actually shaped by them. Ralph Ellison shares this idea. He says the novels we write create us as much as we create them. And Joseph Brodsky believes language has a life outside of us and uses the writer.

Language is absolutely mysterious in its relationship to humans and the things it touches.

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