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.
But that is only one of the ways that I blur the line between poetry and prose. Another concerns content, where I do not feel that either form has a lock on specific subject matter. Which is why I was delighted when Warren Harris sent me the following surprisingly intellectual approach to his own poetry:
Some think humans can be divided between the intelligent and the not-so-intelligent. But my experiences lead me to subscribe to the idea that every individual is intelligent in some things, less so in others—hence the term “multiple intelligences” for a recently developed theory of the mind. However, I believe it’s equally accurate, and often more helpful, to call these individual tendencies “multiple visualizations” of the world.
Some of the ways to visualize are interpersonal (mainly concerned with relationships), naturalistic (mainly concerned with the world of nature), musical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and logical-mathematical. And they can be combined. For example, the visual-spatial and bodily-kinesthetic in high degree can produce a talented gymnast.
When I analyzed myself and my writings in these terms, I was not surprised to realize that one of my ways of visualizing the world, like all poets and other kinds of writers, is verbal-linguistic. But I also realized that there had to be another at least as strong, one that determines the specific direction of my writing.
I found it recently when I watched a documentary film on Mahler’s Third Symphony in which Howard Gardner, a leader in this field of thought, says that the composer’s music was distinctive because he combined the musical intelligence with what is called the “existential intelligence.” I instantly understood why I am drawn to Mahler’s music. It’s my strong tendency to that category of visualization, the existential.
This word sounds like something from a philosophy class about thinkers of the early- and mid-1900s. But it refers to something that has always been with us and always will be, especially for those who can’t help imagining—in fact, obsessing over—the immensities of space and time and the nature of ultimate reality (God, Ground of Being, Tao, Nothingness, etc.) and its relationship to the physical universe, the body, and the mind or the psyche.
I had assumed every thoughtful person had such an obsession. And then I shared with a group of six highly intelligent people, half of whom have doctorates, an astronomical microwave map of the universe capturing a ten-billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. I expected oohs and aahs. Instead, each person glanced at it briefly and passed it along without comment, except for one person who said, “It looks like a mammogram.” All of them no doubt have some interest in existential issues, but it’s apparently not any of their default ways of looking at the world.
What is reality? Why do we exist? Why are we here, and why now? Is there a reality beyond this physical world, and if so, does it affect this world? Is the mind or psyche separate from the physical realm? What makes life worth living? These questions occupy a large portion of the inner thoughts of some people. But who deals with them publicly? To some extent, sci-fi writers, visual artists, and composers do; more so philosophers, theologians, militant atheists, and theoretical physicists.
I hope there is still room for poets as well. I say this because it seems to me that these days most writers and readers of poetry gravitate primarily to interpersonal imaginings of relationships with others and intrapersonal imaginings of one’s own inner moments of joy and suffering. I am one of that minority of poets whose work may touch on such things but at its center is really an attempt to answer the questions posed in the previous paragraph.
Note: Warren might be pleased to know that this editor’s eyes not only do not glaze over at that thought of such stuff but that she also identifies it as constituting the core of her work by noting it in the About Me section of her website. (She does happen to be a former NASA consultant.) Also, those readers who happen to live in the Baltimore-Washington area might be interested in knowing that The DC Science Writers Association has held events “versed in science” such as the one featuring area poets Myra Sklarew and Michael Salcman.