One of the pleasures of being the new prose editor at BrickHouse Books is discovering the people who have published with us, including the poets. After all, I have said that what I look for in prose submissions—among other things—is “a distinctive voice . . . and an obvious love of language.” Meaning a touch of poetry.
So while corresponding with Peter Weltner on the mundane matter of our first year-end book sale, I asked him to tell me a bit about his craft. His response was so pertinent to both poetry and prose that I am sharing it with you here:
When someone is dying, it has been said, hearing is the last sense to fail. I hope that contention is true since it suggests that the world reaches us most enduringly through sound, the way music, perhaps, touches depths in us that no other art can reach. Music is essential to all arts, even sculpture, the pulse by which they beat and by which they live, the rhythm they breathe and move in.
No poem, I think, can be entirely plotless. Even the simplest lyric has some narrative to it, even the purest poem of Mallarmé or the jauntiest by Ashbery. But no poem can be reduced to a story or even to what is often called its meaning. No poem is a poem unless there is music in it, and each good poem must find its own peculiar music, what song belongs to it and maybe to it alone.
Lyricism is attention intensified into music. A poem, every poem I write at least, is an attempt to find the right shape and form for that moment. Even traditional forms, when used, must be specific for the occasion, the emotion or experience that has led to the poem, with nothing arbitrary about them. So, too, does there lie in a poem’s music, its particular rhythms and song, an implicit drama, a story to be told.
When I was twelve, I listened to the radio every night before I went to bed: Dinah Washington, say, remorseful, disappointed, singing because she wanted to be happy, or Joan Weber whose singing of “Let Me Go Lover” I can still hear in my head 60 years later. Across the yard, on the other side of two driveways, a boy named Paul, four years older than me and my best friend, would stand at different times late each evening looking out his window, even when it was raining or cold, as if he were waiting for someone or something. Lying in bed, listening to music on my radio, gazing out across the yard that separated us at night, I’d wait for his light to shine and then wait for it to go out again.
It was then I first learned, I think, that when hearing is intensified, the other senses work more keenly as well so that the world, otherwise fragmentary, becomes, if not exactly whole, at least more real in that way in which poetry, like desire, even when it distorts the world, also makes it more real.
Over the coming weeks, I hope to add additional voices to what seems to be turning into a “Discovering Our Authors” series. I already have one lined up: “Discovering Our Authors: Adrian Koesters.”