Spring 2014

To be a poet, one must first learn to play with a cat—then a butterfly—then a roly-poly.

Gravity is a law of the universe, but play?—How could it not?

Teacher: Along with Kairos and Proteus, something else lurks in the laws of the cosmos: the tendency of inanimate and animate life toward play.
Student: But Kairos and Proteus always already are in the midst of play.
Teacher: And so we feel the rumblings of an even greater god in our consciousness.

Aphorisms encompass a way-of-being in language. Let the students write aphorisms.

Teacher: Epistemological processes pin the poem against the wall till it wriggles out all of its life.
Student: But how can I be tested on something other than my knowledge of what a poem means?
Teacher: We must find a better way to teach and assess ontological processes.

Poiesis—the act of making as in making bread, making love, making a poem. A sensuous augmentation. We must redefine what it means to “get poetry.”

A nameless yeast endures within a poem somewhere between the morphemes—or hiding in the tail of a Q.

Teacher: A mad leaping, twirling, midair somersault—claws clasping only to spring to another leap.
Student: An acrobatic squirrel?
Teacher: And the agency of a poem as it leaps between two imaginations.

The poet may dwell in domestic and pastoral spaces—but when Proteus is awake, the language remains wild.

Reading poetry, one explores not trunks, twigs, and leaves, but rather a far-flung, underground network of roots. The mistake lies in thinking it is something other than an autopoietic phenomenon.

Language seems to have its own, networked intelligence not unlike the mycorrhizal fungi connecting the roots of a community of trees.

To practice reading poems, she listened for that moment the wisp of the tree’s finest root-hair burrowed this way instead of that.

The cloud-gazing child befriends Proteus until the dismissive air of adults pushes him out of the imagination.

Zoomorphisms occur in uncanny places: the concrete of old buildings shape-shifts into lion paws, gargoyles, dragons, and mermaids. Did the architects know they grappled with Proteus?

When we read material marks on the page, we celebrate an animality shared with other species.

Reading poetry is difficult, like following the elusive path of a wolf—a tuft of hair; a scent; tracings; markings.

She had never seen a cardinal before this one, perched in a late winter tree. It felt like befriending a word she always knew was there.

The haptic iPad and the tactile poem printed on the page: both hinge on the magic of images.

Language has force. A physical, material force. Like wind or rushing water, it presses against your hand.

Reading a poem, I locked eyes with a gorilla.

r-O-U-n-d. We forget how the lips stretch, the jaw unhinges, and the mouth gestures—how language is at home in the body.

In poetry, iconicity is when form mimes meaning—but what about when form mimes being?

In the graphic novel, V understands the sorcery and agency of letters.

Every letter in alphabetic systems is embodied; we have forgotten to revel in their material heft.

Proteus is feared like Pandora’s box. It’s why governments have silenced poets and destroyed secret languages.

To teach spelling is to teach sorcery and witchcraft.

We must not forget that primal magic emerges in the spell of a word.

Working in the mud, with horses, on the ranch, with sun-cracked lips and dust-filled skin creases—they had no idea they were already poets.

Some poems (like children—like many plants) need sunlight and a big sky.

Nag!—nag!—nag! To nag is to smother children and poems.

Tweet—Tweet! said the aphorism.

We have forgotten that poetry has to do with magic and with healing and restoring one’s relationship to all that environs us—plants, animals, stones, water, fire, air, soil. How shall the student be tested?

Some people fear split infinitives, split words, split letters—understandably so. Too much energy unleashed—like split atoms.

Lest we forget, a poem is a room with no walls, no ceiling, no floor.

He did not get poetry. The poems never had time for metamorphosis in his imagination.

Teacher: A zygote exponentially explodes into vertebrae, lungs, liver, tongue, teeth, heart, hippocampus, whorly ears, dilatable eyes.
Student: So the body is Protean?
Teacher: And, according to Whitman, the supreme poem.

Fractals make it possible to hold infinity in the palm of your hand.

Like mountain pine beetles, aphorisms bore into and threaten monolithic systems of thought.

“Whatever that means,” the student scoffed.
“Or rather, whatever it’s doing,” encouraged the teacher.

Pythagoras saw Kairos as one of the laws of the universe, but it is difficult to know if that god outweighs another, namely, Proteus.

Proteus is the seed out of which the cosmos blossoms, on all scales.

Poem-as-plant; poem-as-animal; poem as-fire-wind-air-water—these prevalent tropes all point toward the practical work of Proteus.

For readers, a poem is a Sequoia cone with hundreds of seeds. For poets, it is a clump of needles on a topmost twig.

“The weight of language moves through a poem? I don’t feel it”
“You have yet to read it with your body.”

The robin sees the worm by listening to a faint crumble of earth. A blind bat sees a mosquito with cupped ears. Listening is a form of seeing. We have only begun to glimpse the inexhaustible ways a poem can be heard.

“Cummings said it all concerning gestures. They are the prime numbers of language. Like 11 or 13.”
“A wink, a squeeze on the shoulder.”
“And a line break. A broken word. Blank space.”

The poem went in search of a body.

We hear poems not through ears but through the roots of our hair.

The students, facing a door wide-open to limitless horizons, awoke. Bewildered. The vertiginous abyss. The tragedy?—it was only their first return after too many fruitless years.

After a decade of listening, he finally heard something ponderous in a poem, like the hushed footfalls of a hundred distant spiders.

“Students want more than good grades.”
“Like what?”
“Like the abyss to open beneath their feet.”

In a well-crafted course, students begin to feel the slow gyration of an immense maelstrom at the edge of everything they read.

I want to read something that leaps like a squirrel along the topmost twigs of a towering oak.

The poem remains sealed like a roly-poly. She could barely imagine the curling legs.

Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me, the aphorism said to the student.

Aphorisms dust the mind.

After wandering through scrolls, vellum, and the dusty pages of books for millennia, the aphorism found Twitter.

Anthologies are zoos. Courses provide mere tours. We must return to reading poems as a practice of the wild.

A poem exists in the infinite space between one second and another.

The history of poetry—including totem poles and cybertexts—manifests a collective Protean consciousness. Who dares to hold on?

To prepare to read poetry, she pantomimed Proteus.

As Cummings suggested, poetry is the bud of a bud.

A dusty word strikes a forgotten note in a grand piano. Reverberations shake the stale air. Hammers poise over taut strings.

No no—the Menger sponge. If you keep breaking form, the poem approaches nothingness while the possibilities approach infinity.

Done with domesticated writings. Rewild the imagination.

With abject violence—floggings, chains, manacles, cages—we domesticated Proteus. Who can wash the blood off of their hands?

The teacher: “We knead dough so as to hasten the union of two partial proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Through hydration and kneading, they combine to become gluten—the primary source of structure and flavor in bread.”
The Student: “But I thought we were talking about language.”
The Teacher: “Yes . . . language—and the work of the imagination.”

Terrified of unbounded possibilities, the institution confines language behind brick walls. Even there, phonemes stir and morphemes shape shift.

Bewilder. Be wilder. Be the one who wanders in the unknown.

He began to understand poetry while kneading bread.

“Poets are dragons.”
“Meaning they are extinct?”
“Meaning they exist in forgotten caverns.”

Some people approach poetry all their life as some epistemological challenge, like a swimmer who never finds the time to swim—too busy scrutinizing other people’s strokes and the temperature of water.

Language often keeps us on the trail following the creek. Poetry creates a path to dwell on the mountain side.

For far too long, the student dwelled on the earth through the poetry of others, not realizing that a bat must send out her own clicks-of-the-tongue.


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All this work by Aaron Moe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://aaronmoe.com.

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