Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


The Mystery of Language

I see a relationship between impressionism, some kinds of abstract paintings, and the poetry I want to write—of just suggesting something. Giving only enough information/detail to set the readers’ imagination working. I don’t want everything spelled out. I want mystery in my poems (and my prose)—new worlds.

Here’s an example:


Big Lucks

 She told me to

surrender but

I didn’t know

what the word meant

I found a bird

with a knot

in its chest

that I tried to

undo but a kite

ran away

with me   I

thought a monster

would save

me   One jogged

past named Mary

She had mustard

written across

her chest and the

moon dropped a boy

into a bag

It seemed better

than giving birth

in a zoo   All

that junk lying

around in a

subway   Some janitor

got ambitious

and threw the cat

into the box

I now am holding

I love this Rothko quote: “Mark Rothko, painting his stripes in Greece, was asked: ‘Why don’t you paint our temples.’ He 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. When I’m working on a novel, I feel as if the characters I’m interacting with have as much influence on me as people I’m involved with in the outer world. So I share Ellison take on the way our narratives are shaping us as we shape them.

Recently, my husband and I got into a discussion of poetry and our different approaches to it, his training being in new criticism, mine in more contemporary work. He recognizes that I’m onto something Melville was alluding to in Moby Dick—the gap between language and what it tries to depict…how language organizes and creates our way of seeing.

After this conversation, we looked at some poems I’d written recently, and he was reading them differently. This time he was able to grasp what I was doing. We talked of how our training can shut us down, put blinders on us. He said, “Joseph Brodsky believes language has a life outside of us and uses the writer.”

I agree. I think it’s true that in the beginning was the word. Language is absolutely mysterious in its relationship to humans and the things it touches.



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