A World Rediscovered (An Anthology of Contemporary Verse)
"Swimmers in factual waters / disinventing depth...." Those opening lines of Chuck Tripi’s poem, "Proof," stand as an apt definition of poets and their paradoxical ways. Poets (and in fact all artists) operate in the known universe, subject to the same laws of physics as everyone else. And yet, poets can disinvent depth, can rise to the surface, are called upward into the light that they themselves can also create. There is this world. And then, there is this world rediscovered. And for that, we have the poets to thank.
I have always believed that poets and scientists have a lot to learn from each other. In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking asks, "Why do we remember the past but not the future?" It is the only question of Dr. Hawking’s I feel I can answer: Poets do remember the future—that is precisely how poets spend their days, remembering the future. It is lovely to think of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility," as William Wordsworth wrote, but we poets know it is more like a place of turmoil rather than tranquility. Poets write of desire and want, because the future—well, you do not have to be a poet to remember what that will bring. Poets remember the future and celebrate the present. The result is haunting, whether one has written the poem or has read it.
The haiku poets have always known this. Ban’ya Natsuishi writes: A golden hand / from the dimple / of a muddy lake —and you are there, on the slippery banks of that muddy lake, and—and!—the golden hand is yours. Will be yours. Was yours. The haiku has left you bereft of the false comfort of measured time. Past, present, future are all now. The power of the image knocks us from the known world that made that image possible. Fortunately, a poet is there to remember, and to remind.
In the pages that follow, the reader will remember many futures. "Look: / You have become..." George Lightcap begins in "Poem for Myself at Age Seventeen from Me at Fifty-Four," as he disinvents time in a tone both humorous and poignant. A kindred humor and poignancy is found in "When Meeting Beauty" by Jan Oskar Hansen. Robin Linn disinvents the distinctions of personal space in "Capital of Learning," with its shifting perspectives and disconcerting cityscape. Sayumi Kamakura writes, "Though the lilies flower, / I couldn’t shorten / the distance between us"—and there again, the reader will hold his or her breath, and think, "How did this poet see me, see my world, see my future?"
"I couldn’t shorten the distance between us." And yet, Kamakura has shortened it. All the poets in this anthology have disinvented distance. This is the power of art. A poet’s choice of a word, an artist’s choice of color, a dancer’s choice of how to move her hand makes the experience of art an experience of reality, a real world unto itself, rather than a reflection of a world. I almost wrote, "So many of the poems in this anthology celebrate creation," which would have been foolish. They all celebrate creation.
Physicists, if you want to see string theory at work, multiple universes wherein every possibility exists at once, you need look no further than poetry. But "who can bear to believe this report?" asks Albert U. Turner in his poem in the voice of Arctic explorer Matthew Henson. Who can bear to believe, indeed. It would be easier, perhaps, to shut one’s mind to these reports the poets bring us from these other worlds, reports of longing, of the tenuous beauty of our days, of future memories that stop the heart.
The poets stand with the scientists on one side, and the philosophers on the other. In The Sense of Beauty, George Santayana wrote, "The real world is merely the shadow of that assurance of eventual experience which accompanies sanity." Shadow...assurance...experience—again, the stuff of poetry. Reader, did you realize when you picked up this beautiful book, that you were holding in your hands the manifestation of science and philosophy? You did realize. That is what poetry is, after all. You know you hold here a world rediscovered, a new world with each turn of the page. Your world. Remember—here it comes.
Newton, New Jersey, U.S.A.