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The prose of the poets

in Ark Review/Musings by

The prose of the poets is what permits those who fail to read poems to nevertheless hear a poet’s voice. This one certainty arrives in the midst of many possibilities: it can be a sacrifice, a paradox and a stratagem. Above all, however, it can be a delight.

The prose of the poets can be a sacrifice. This choice to speak prose means that a poet has to give up a bit of him- or of herself. Thus each time I read a poet’s prose, the implicit condition of its existence lurks and says: so that those lines can come to be, some poetry must have been sacrificed. In the strictest sense, this ‘must’ may not even be true (perhaps: no sacrifice at all, no either-or here). Yet, I cannot see this prose in any other way. It may be the tacit-present ancient hierarchies, the received, the assumed ones, that dictate this to me. This sacrifice evokes a slight sorrow over what has thus not come to be, but mostly gratitude for the poet’s kind choice. Kind: because in this prose those who fail to read poems, like me, can find their consolation and delight, and forget about their failure for a while.

Bildschirmfoto 2017-01-10 um 12.08.50

The prose of the poets can be a paradox. This prose written in place of poems, makes a poet’s voice into what logic has long ago deemed impossible: the voice is the poet’s voice, but its melody sounds different, kindly mundane and plain, so although it is what it is, it is also somehow not. There, yet different, at once P and not P. I reach for Paris Spleen: it is Baudelaire who speaks. As does Miłosz, though it’s young Tomasz I run through The Issa Valley with, it’s Pessoa, not Soares, who, in The Book of Disquiet, keeps me quiet company. I hear Rilke, while I read The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Herbert talks, Barbarian in The Garden, Brodsky in Less Than One. As I read the prose of the poets, the author is alive, and with this life comes the voice. If I sometimes take the time and wonder, the paradox materialises itself: who is it that speaks through those lines? A poet, or not? Whom do I hear?

[…] each time I read a poet’s prose, the implicit condition of its existence lurks and says: so that those lines can come to be, some poetry must have been sacrificed. In the strictest sense, this ‘must’ may not even be true (perhaps: no sacrifice at all, no either-or here).

The prose of the poets can be a stratagem. In my everyday, it is where I seek the poetic, as I have failed to read the poetry itself. I fail repeatedly, almost every time I try. I feel estranged, long before I even take a look; I can be jealous of those who say ‘I read poetry’, just so, so lightly, as if this was not an issue at all. It is not that I do not understand the words. It is not that I seek some arcane sense hidden in the poem, waiting to be resolved in the false synthesis of my arbitrary sense. It is not that I would not like to read poetry, nor that I hate it. It is just that something only too familiar always seems to stand in between, somewhere in the middle of the way. But the poetry, I tell myself, will come, one day, when I learn to let it speak instead of busying myself with being fit to hear it. Because the words and stanzas have long been there, in their perfectly patient indifferent presence. Among those uncertainties this I know, that it is not them what to blame.

Photos: Slaire Caunier

Lives in Copenhagen, volunteers at Ark, has a degree in philosophy and political science. Wrote his thesis on the notion of Angst in Heidegger’s philosophy, his dissertation on Arendt's account of totalitarianism.

1 Comment

  1. […] In this sense, The Bricks that Built the Houses brings to mind some of the best prose narrating the condition of our generation. Although different in composition, perspective and language, it is a work close in nature to her fellow poet Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station. Reading both, one feels that they are approaching the certainty that neither of these texts has been contrived or constructed as artifice, despite both of them being fiction. Tempest, with her book, offers not only a way into this rare delightful moment of the pleasure of text, but, more importantly, the wonder of facing the paradox of a fiction that seems more real than the reality itself. And here is what I find so fascinating: she chooses to speak about the many familiar situations, emotions and struggles that make up our own lives. But it is only when she enunciates them that they reverberate with a significance that our own experience somehow fails to reveal to us. As if we were just deaf until she spoke. This girl talks with a razor—to paraphrase the classic—keep it under her tongue. And she manages all this with a seeming ease, blunt and unapologetic in its beauty. Praised be the prose of the poet. […]

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