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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Notes To The Beloved
Poetry is not real.
That is, poetry is not memoir, not journalism, not the loops and spilled ink that make up a passage in an old, leather bound diary.
Image, simile, metaphor, certainly line breaks, do not exist in the physical world. Having an orgasm is not a simile for the ecstatic preservation of the soul; it’s a chemical/physical (albeit awesome) reaction in your body. A father who puts cigarettes out on his son’s arm is not a metaphor examining the violent contract between men; it’s an action that’s happening. There are no line breaks influencing meaning between a man and a woman that desperately wants to kiss each other but can’t; it’s just a bummer. But it is through image, simile, and metaphor that we understand, feel, and examine the physical world. In fact, it’s through poets like Michelle Bitting that we get to experience this understanding, face this physical drama, and examine our own place at the table of human bodies, most intensely.
Michelle Bitting’s award winning book, “Notes to The Beloved” (Sacramento Poetry Center Press, 2011) is full of the physical world, illuminated by a dynamic narrative sensibility, a vision of down-to-earth love, an active yearning to understand the world, and plenty of kick ass images, metaphors, and similes:
“You make a matchstick of your finger,
dunk the tip in Bombshell Red.
Then your lips are two flickers,
in the shadows of your ears, smoldering
flowers. You draw a smoky line
between lid and lash and dash out—”
(from the poem Washed in Flame)
After reading this book not only did I understand the physical world in a more intimate and immediate way but I felt more a part of it. And what’s more I wanted desperately to be the beloved, the other that an artist reaches for. Isn’t this what we want from poetry? At least, isn’t it one of the great desired experiences? To be turned around, made newer, have been blown up, by a collection of poems? To be “like Johann Sebastian/on the banks of the Rhine, letting notes fill the rivers/of his hands, then turning back/to compose the world,/map the road/ aright with song, so/we could keep time/like this, getting high.”?