Charles Simic on Vasko Popa:
“The comic and mythic strategies are similar, if not identical. The trick is to be literal-minded in the world of multiple metaphors, and fabulous in the face of the literal. The aim is to present the known in terms of the unknown and recover its mythical potential. Popa knows all about that.
“What sets him apart is what I can only call his ‘classicism.’ One might be reading Euclid on the triangle here. He is so deadpan. The usual drama of the Self is completely absent. The archetypal forms that emerge are employed for cognitive ends.”
What is this of the Self being absent? Initially, I’m thinking, “Damn! That sounds great! Where can I get some of that?” But then I realize, in considering what that actually entails for me, and for poetry, that maybe that wrecks something important–to remove the “usual drama of the Self.”
Poetry comes from the self, doesn’t it? I put words down, trying to express a condition I experience, knowing that I have never found it in print before–not exactly–and hoping that if I put the right words down, somebody else will see what I have done, will hold it before them as I hold the poems and books of other writers before me, and say, “Jesus Christ! Absolutely!” or “Yes.” or something quiet and somehow final and personal, maybe even “Ahhh…” Where the moment of recognition not only happens at the moment of reward, but is the reward of struggling to understand. The second act of my hope is that when somebody recognizes something they know but have never seen expressed before, it will validate both our experiences, publish them, illuminate them, and thereby cause them to vanish or diminish so that they don’t matter anymore and we don’t have to worry about them and can enjoy them. As a mode of the erasure of obscure sufferings.
Each successful poem erases a small part of my suffering. I know my poems must be bad because I have ten thousand of them and still suffer plenty. (Talk about the usual drama of the Self…)
Anyway, since poetry has no purpose and only justifies itself in its best moments, I’m not going to try to figure out if the absence of the Self’s usual drama is a good or bad thing, but instead simply insert here a poem of Popa’s that I read tonight on the train and rather liked. It’s called “Seducer” and is from a series called “Games,” each of which appears to be a set of instructions (I mention this because otherwise you wouldn’t see that pattern).
One strokes the leg of a chair
Until the chair moves
And gives him a sweet sign with its leg
Another kisses a keyhole
Kisses it O how he kisses it
Until the keyhole returns his kiss
A third stands aside
Stares at the other two
Shakes shakes his head
Until it falls off