It feels a bit strange to introduce my collection of poetry to a group that’s all about Jungian psychology rather than poems, especially because though it’s perfectly true I’m a psychologist by profession and owe my livelihood to practicing analysis, while pursuing my literary avocation I identify myself exclusively as a poet—and most emphatically not as a Jungian analyst who writes verse, i.e. a hobbyist. I share with the poets I admire a loyalty to language as king, within whose domain craft rules and rhythm stokes the furnace.
Does my poet identity at all overlap the Jungian? Yes, in several crucial ways: my commitment to the primacy of personal experience and emotion, the drive for self-expression, the need for meaning, an awareness of the unconscious, recognition of the potency of images, and a tendency to exploit the cumulative effects of overlapping and interpenetrating associations.
Hello Paul: Even though I'm not a poet, poetry is profoundly important in my life and in the work I offer to the world. I'm convinced that the poetic, mythopoetic, archetypal, mythological, Pagan (pick one or more) mode(s) of thinking are absolutely essential to the healing of our world. More on that later. Just for starters, I wanted to say that my wife, my adult children and I attend the Brave New Voices/Youth Speaks Teen Poetry finals every year, and we all loved your son George's performances.
Thanks for getting in touch, and for the generous comments about George. If you haven't been following his post-BNV career you might want to visit his YouTube channel, where he's posted dozens of videos, including one that went viral last year and now has over 20 million hits. He's a good guy, and seems to be making a life/living for himself in a real tough industry.
Hi Paul--and Barry, thanks for jumping in. Your comment led me to google "George Watsky" and I found some YouTube videos which reveal a very talented young man. Congrats, Paul. I've never heard you rap :) -- but from a poetry standpoint, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Meanwhile, Paul, I, like most people I imagine, have dabbled in poetry but can only judge if a poem is "good" by the way I feel about it. I find the poems I like best (both mine and others) can often be read on a multitude of layers. I remember the first time I wrote a poem which was about something very specific, but I purposely set out to represent the theme in a way that the reader really wouldn't know what I was talking about--that is, every line was an image that was visually symbolic of what I was really talking about. The result (I think) was rather poetic.
I'm wondering how you gauge a poem to be "good" for yourself? Also, while I know you were a poet long before you became an analyst, do you ever use your Jungian background and understanding of myth, symbol, and metaphor to deliberately layer meaning into your work by purposely representing ideas with symbols?
Interesting questions—and hard to answer briefly, but I'll try.
Re" I can only judge if a poem is "good" by the way I feel about it:" That's a matter of training yourself to observe certain things.You probably wouldn't say you can't tell a dancer's bad until you feel the pain of him stepping on your feet. Since poems are made from language, watch how the words move in the poem, the diction, rhythm. Is the effect awkward? Is the diction flat, unsurprising? Are you hearing cliches? What about the images? Have they any vitality? Is the poet saying anything coherent and interesting? Overall, does the poem seem to be waking you up, stimulating you, expanding your horizon—or the reverse?
Re "I purposely set out to represent the theme in a way that the reader really wouldn't know what I was talking about:" Maybe you can get away with that. I suspect many poets may try your approach, and some win prizes. Furthermore, editing is an essential conscious shaping process controlled by the ego that one hopes will make the poem both a more pleasing artifact and a better-organized instrument of communication. But many poets, myself included, experience the poem as initially coming to them, arriving in their awareness almost the way a dream does—it shows up in their conscious in-box. And even during the revising process we're likely to experience ideas, felicitous turns of phrase, images, arriving in our minds, or discover them already lurking in the text rather than rationally constructed and placed there effortfully. This is what Marion Milner termed "the answering activity." Poets discover and learn things about their minds in the process of writing, and it's a major compensation for the lack of material reward and social respect.
Re "do you ever use your Jungian background and understanding of myth, symbol, and metaphor to deliberately layer meaning into your work by purposely representing ideas with symbols?" Not exactly, because I don't believe what Jung would have termed "a living symbol" comes from the ego. To the extent I experience parts of a poem as being affectively alive, I try to heighten the effect through editing. But the deliberately constructed symbol strikes me as annoyingly self-important, usually vague, a cliche, or all three simultaneously. Nor do I think in terms of "layering," i.e. two or three discrete lines of meaning laminated on top of each other and running throughout the poem. I'm more likely to notice and exploit the multiple connotations of words to enhance their associative possibilities, which is akin to leaving the reader's mind room to play, and be surprised.
I've just joined the group and have ordered your book of poetry for delivery next week---you had me with the first poem I read via the Amazon Look Inside. I selected your Temple of Kali chapter, because the midnight blue goddess who devours her children is one of my favorite beings. Your poem "Cumbersome" came up, and like the crayfish itself, crawled its way off the page and into my heart. Like all good poetry, yours has the power to transport and transform the reader, opening them to the awe of everyday life. These are the worlds of image you brought back to me, through your offering to Mother Kali . . .
We called them crawdads, when my brothers and I were children. In the season when there were few butterflies to catch in our nets, we set off with small boxes from Mother's house, bare-handed on the hunt. Down to the church all the way at the corner, down into the mossy ditch where wild watercress grew, out of sight.
How out of place they were, confined in Mother's house, these wild creatures. But we loved the wild in their little bodies, had to have them, to watch them, to cherish them as our own. Such a familiar remembrance, thank you for that world Paul.
And the dust bunnies from under the refrigerator . . . the finality of rec-capture, and caging under a heavy screen in Kali's Temple. Wild nature, civilized life or captivity, the certainty of Mother Kali's devouring their little bodies. Pathos . . . empathy . . . the playfulness of the deadly hunter looming, defying their own culpability in taming, in death itself. In awe of life. So familiar.
Thanks very much, Kathryn. Having a person respond as you did to a poem of mine is a big part of why I write. I'm grateful you let me know.
FYI here's a link to the video George made to promote TTD. I did the reading and he took care of everything else:
I hope the book's other poems have something like the effect "Cumbersome" did. Most of them, too, grew out of an emotionally powerful moment, which with "C" was the emergence of that supposedly dead critter, looking ridiculous, but miraculously alive.
Delightful animation Paul, good job dad!
I'll definitely share this with students who want to create multi-media artwork using their poetry.
Many thanks, Kathryn.
Hi all - I'd like to speak to a more general poetry issue -- what I refer to in my book as the revival of the Oral Tradition. For some twenty years now I've been very fortunate to have been part of an extended community in the SF Bay Area that has valued the recitation (not reading) of poetry and story. Several of us put on regular salons where the only rule is no reading. We encourage people to find (or write) a piece that is so meaningful to them that they choose to learn it by heart. In doing so, they take the poem quite literally into their own bodies and then "embody" the poem. Then, when they speak it to a group in ritual space, it becomes their own poem; it becomes self-revelation. And then we can have a "poetic conversation" in which one poem inspires another in round after round of pure beauty.
Larry Robinson (firstname.lastname@example.org) presents salons in Sebastopol. I encourage everyone to email him and get on his email list (which includes a poem of the day). And please email me (email@example.com) for future salons in the East Bay.
Also: Dan and Dale Zola produce an annual public event -- the Great Night of Rumi -- in Berkeley, in which many of recite poetry with musical accompaniment. You can hear samples on their website: http://www.dzola.com/
I mention these contacts because I really believe that poetry that comes out of our bodies is a very powerful method of bringing soul back into the world and actually "en-couraging" people to reclaim their own power and offer their own unique gifts to the world. Young people, especially Paul's son, know this very well.
Truly, Barry, that's a fine way to relate to poetry. Living with it, breathing with it, acting it out.
If you haven't already encountered the Jerome Rothenberg anthology Technicians of the Sacred you might find sympatico its approach to preliterate, indigenous, and often sacred verse.
Since you mention George, I'd like to add that his real introduction to poetry came from an after school program that first trains high school age kids to write and then perform. George quickly recognized that although he wouldn't place high in slams unless he memorized his work, memorization and histrionics couldn't redeem a weak scribble. Ever since those days he's put major effort into generating and revising his drafts.
Dawn McGuire & Paul Watsky
POETRY AT THE UPTOWN AUTOBODY SHOP AND ART GALLERY
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18, 7 PM
401 26TH ST (AT WEBSTER)
RECEPTION FOLLOWS. WITH LIBATIONS, BOOKS & SNACKS
McGuire will read from her new collection, The Aphasia Café. McGuire, a neurologist and Professor at the Neuroscience Institute of Morehouse School of Medicine, has published three collections. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She most recently won the Sarah Lawrence/ Campbell Corner Language Exchange Prize for “poems that treat larger themes with lyric intensity.” In her best-selling third book, The Aphasia Café, McGuire enters into the world of her aphasic patients to explore the way we use language to construct our identity and world. These accessible, powerful poems invite listeners to enter into a conversation about language, identity, silence, and human resilience.
Paul Watsky is the author of Telling The Difference (Fisher King Press, 2010) and co- translator with Emiko Miyashita of Santoka (PIE Books, 2006). His work has appeared or is forthcoming are Interim, Smartish Pace, The Carolina Quarterly, Many Mountains Moving, Alabama Literary Review, The Pinch, and Natural Bridge. "To quote Norman O. Brown quoting Euripides, 'God made an opening for the unexpected,' and at long last we have what many of us have greatly desired: a collection of poems by Paul Watsky. His is a singular voice in contemporary poetry, with a range that encompasses the wry, the mordant, the laugh-out-loud funny and the deeply moving, often within the same poem. One of Ovid's earliest critics complained that he did not know when to leave well enough alone. In this he resembles the eponymous hero of Watsky's 'The Magnificent Goldstein,' and, come to think of it, Watsky himself, for which we have cause to rejoice." -Charles Martin