Wednesday, November 29, 2017

associative leaps in poetry




excerpts from the essay entitled
so much happens when no one is watching 

by Daniel Deardorff



There are three things involved in making a associative leap:
a place to leap from, 
a place to leap to,
and most importantly, that space which is in-between.

Bly suggests that the in-between , the liminal space of the leap, provides a mysterious kind of content.  Bly calls our attention to the many things that happen "when no one is watching."  Pointing toward that which must remain outside our conscious awareness is like Lao Tzu saying that "knowing with not-knowing is best."  Connecting "what happens when no one is watching" to the emphasis on associativity, we notice a similar invitation to consider the unconscious space behind the associative image.  There is a great distance, swiftly traversed, between the philosopher and the predator in the line: "Plato wrote by the light from sharks' teeth."

One key to entering the vast spaces in Bly's thought in understanding is something I've called "associative alacrity" - the adroit capacity to form unexpected correlations,  In the modern world this capacity has been so repressed that it's hard to work out any sense of it.   In Norse mythology there is an ash tree that connects many worlds.  This "World Tree," called Yggdrasil, presents a complex image that works like this: at the top is the solar bird, the great eagle; at the bottom is the old lunar serpent.  The third thing, which connects this opposition, is something much less grand, a squirrel.  Leaping from branch to root, the acrobat squirrel carries messages between the extremities.  The furry mammal presents the limbic capacity to bridge the contradictions without reconciliation.  The squirrel is the embodiment of the leaping consciousness.

Leaping in this manner, the poems of Robert Bly refuse to turn away from Heaven, and at once, stubbornly refuse to renounce the earthly life.  "In a great ancient or modern poem, the considerable distance between the associations, the distance the spark has to leap, gives the lines their bottomless feeling, their space."  The relationships formed by these leaps are not linear - they are not stops along some rational railway, or some predictable system of linked facts - they are images or feelings related by something inexplicable and mysterious.  In this kind of association the distance, the interval or the leap, provides verticality and depth, a kind of bottomless content which functions as what Lawrence Hatab called "mythic disclosure": it does not explain things but "presents an intelligible picture of the lived world and the form of human involvement with the lived world."

In ancient times, in the "time of inspiration." the poet flew from
one world to another, "riding on dragons," as the Chinese said. 
Isaiah rode on those dragons, so did Li Po and Pindar.  They
dragged behind them long tails of dragon smoke.  Some of that 
dragon smoke still boils out of Beowulf. ...This dragon smoke 
means that a leap has taken place in the poem.

The associative paths... allow us to leap from one part of the brain
to another and lay out their contraries.  Moreover it's possible that
what we call "mythology" deals precisely with these abrupt juxtapositions...
using what Joseph Campbell called "mythological thinking," 
it moves the energy along a spectrum - either up or down. 
It can awaken the "lost music," walk on the sea, cross the 
river from instinct to spirit.

It is in the interval of the leap that "so much happens when no one is watching" and this is related to Richard Schechner's idea that certain rituals require "selective inattention."  He says: "Selective inattention allows patterns of the whole to be visible, patterns that otherwise would be burned out of the consciousness by a too intense concentration.



this essay is part of a collection in the book
Robert Bly - In This World




Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River

I
I am driving; it is dusk; Minnesota.
The stubble field catches the last growth of sun.
The soybeans are breathing on all sides.
Old men are sitting before their houses on car seats
In the small towns. I am happy,
The moon rising above the turkey sheds.

II
The small world of the car
Plunges through the deep fields of the night,
On the road from Willmar to Milan.
This solitude covered with iron
Moves through the fields of night
Penetrated by the noise of crickets.

III
Nearly to Milan, suddenly a small bridge,
And water kneeling in the moonlight.
In small towns the houses are built right on the ground;
The lamplight falls on all fours on the grass.
When I reach the river, the full moon covers it.
A few people are talking, low, in a boat.


~ Robert Bly




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