“We cannot resolve the darkness of the human condition…yet we still sing and dance…” MB said at the opening of his residency craft talk, You’ve Got Some Nerve. “I believe that art and philosophy are survival skills…Art is an attitude, a way of being inside oneself.”
He spoke for an hour, diving in and out of the technical, positing a mind-blowing thesis that articulated ideas (beyond the scope of my brain) about lyricism and free verse. Lyricism, he explained, struggles to capture the modern experience and is therefore a dying art. Free verse is a modern form that is inherently more playful and crafty. “Any labor you love, becomes play,” MB says. He reads an O’Hara poem (free verse), which he says has “innocence, yet its crafty delight is always in order. It is artful, nervy, personal, informal, carefree…” and none of this opposes hard thought.
Involvement or investment in the free verse form does not always mean using the “I” voice. Here, involvement refers to involvement with language that suggests an engagement with the subject matter. Free verse has form, “A line is always a unit of attention” and when one writes it, one has to listen to one’s own ear, so to speak. Yet, “free verse has the freedom to be elastic…and the means of pulling and pushing syntax and lines.” He quotes Kinnell from The Book of Nightmares, then recites Moore an Jeffers.
Jeffers’ poem is unique, because it is free verse but also a sonnet. How is this possible? It takes nerve to get to this level of involvement, and Jeffers’ poem ultimately “manifests the sonnet idea but without the sonnet form.” Later, he concludes, “we must have nerve of language and imagination for art to manifest itself.”
For all his genius, I found MB’s thesis overwhelming. As a nonfiction writer, the technical language about syntax, lining sequence, modernism, and other words (that I don’t even know) was a bit alienating. Like his craft talk last year, I’ll need a written copy so that I my mine his essay for meaning, look up words, and eventually – come to understand his message more fully.