in the distance
our knowledge starts to fade
is this the tops of some turbulent nimbus
or the flat eroded crater of a diseased volcano
over the sea
peaks of waves dip and echo
the crests and troughs of the wrinkled land
(it would be a hard healing
hitting one of those)
sleeping in derilium
creases across the sheet
lying over the bedrock of a sick child
body lava hot knees quaking
© Martin Porter 2011
This poem has a compound title, and no other explanation. I often insert a commentary into a poem in the form of an epigraph or postscript, but there is no suitable candidate for this. The poem is a very recent piece, and I am not entirely sure it is in final form at this stage, but it has gone through my editing process and I’m not unhappy with the current form.
Language used in poetry does not always follow the established rules of written (prose) language. It may be moulded into unusual forms rather like a sheet of metal in a press, and, like a sheet of metal forced into an unnatural shape, exhibits stress patterns and weaknesses as well as structure and strengths. This poem uses a reduced form, rather like that discussed in an earlier entry “in the cinema stalls watching…” Punctuation may allow the reader to construct a different interpretation, although this is still constrained by structure – the stanza, line structure and parentheses. So although the language has reduced coherence, it has not crossed the boundary of meaning to become nonsensical.
In some ways this poem may be seen as difficult in the sense that the meaning is not immediately obvious. As discussed in the entry “Disregarding 12 0 2”, there may not be a need for a poem to be immediately obvious. It may be argued that poems which reveal their all in one single glance are just too obvious, but such judgements become subjective. A case, perhaps, of one man’s meat… Unlike “Disregarding 12 0 2”, this poem is difficult not because of the reduced content of the subject matter (which concentrates on what is actually happening, not where or why) but because of the language and its use. The obscurity is not going to be lifted by a simple internet search, because knowledge is not the issue here, this is a poem that is more about the seen and the interpreted.
This poem starts as a relatively simple description of a scene viewed from above as indicated in the last part of the title, although the first two lines are designed to challenge a simple interpretation. The use of brackets at the end of second stanza is intended to add an external commentary, but external to the narrator rather than external to the poem. Here the poem starts to move towards the edge of simplicity, and the language starts to obtain meaning not from the words used but from the structures in which they are placed. The structure becomes more chaotic in the third stanza, a structure that is prefigured by the word “diseased”, which matches the word “derilium” used at the start of this final stanza. Note that the structure becomes chaotic, not disorganised. There is something structural operating there, rather like a defined feedback process that produces unpredictable results rather than just randomness or ill-discipline.
The first stanza contextualises the poem in both space and time. The time is the geological present, the place is what I call “home”. The language has to work hard to push this past this boundary to an understanding of the origins of this location. The understanding is not a scientific understanding, however, but a poetic understanding. It attempts to take the reader past the point of tectonic activity and theory and pushes towards the concept that this young land has parallels to a sick child, hence the title. Perhaps this is what gives the poem the opacity that can be seen as a problem. But this is a good place to ask whether a poem should be just description, or just knowledge based, or perhaps something more visceral.
By using structure and moving understanding past knowledge by using analogy, this poem tries to push language past the simple use of words. It takes the observation of a landscape on the clashing edge of tectonic plates, pushes language beyond its normal boundaries and takes the reader past the visible into something that lies beyond the seen. In some ways the language is also searching for this substratum, a language beneath language.
The poem is not just about the known, it is about the experience the feelings and the interpretative process that rationalises and stores the experience into the fabric of the observers conception of nature. If nature poetry is to advance, perhaps it should position both language and place on the edge. The skill is to ensure it so it does not fall over the edge, either into the dull or into the incoherent.