Unpoetic Subjects

I listened to the wind

and to the speaking leaves

And learned not a thing

but to pause and to breathe

Dear reader, thank you for your continued interest in my blog. I was in Zilker Park (Austin, Texas), taking a break from writing a more ambitious poem about weedwackers when I wrote those lines.

The prospect of writing poems about seemingly unpoetic subjects delights me immensely. Weedwackers and leaf-blowers would surely shatter the noonday reveries of Romantic poets, yet they fill me with nostalgia. Their hypnotic hum in the distance seems like the sleepy sound of summer itself, inseparable from the languorous, Floridian days of my youth. Weedwackers are “mechanical cicadas, biting not to eat” wielded by “invisible men, to keep teeming Nature neat.” (I’m still working on it.)

Poets should embrace the world in its entirety. You don’t need to cultivate a poetic mood to write poetry, you need to cultivate poetic eyesight.

When I see blackened blobs of dried gum in a parking lot, they inspire me to write. The Tao Te Ching has taught me that the world should not be divided into beautiful and ugly, or other dualisms. (There is only the Tao, the Way, the unity of all things – whatever that means.)  Our minds, craving categorization and simplicity, fall prey to false opposites all the time: good and evil, us and them, right and wrong, etc.

Just as I occasionally find unlikely beauty in “ugliness,” I sometimes see ugliness in what traditionally is regarded as beautiful. For example, Nature inspires us with its beauty, but often I reflect on how brutal it is: a cycle of killing, eating, evading, surviving and mating. It’s as ruthless as capitalism. Nature relaxes you, but Nature is hardly relaxed. Nature is relentless struggle and death.

Submitting everything we see to convenient labels, to approval or rejection, to celebration or complaint, is easy but unsubtle, and blunts the mind to true understanding. For example: Advertising is ugly. And flowers are beautiful, right? Yet consider that flowers merely serve as billboards for bees and other pollinators. Their beauty, to our eyes, is an accidental development. Nature has employed advertising for eons.

And beauty of course, is subjective and species specific. There is nothing more alluringly beautiful to the fly than the tantalizing scent of putrefying flesh.

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