I've been meaning to blog about silence and nothingness. These are two elements that every serious artist needs to master. Silence is the backdrop to every poem. You need to know how to make that endless emptiness work for you when you write. And sometimes it's not easy.
Nothingness is where every poem begins. Perhaps, according to modern physics, where everything begins. If you can't fish the nothingness for art, then you probably should give up being a poet.
It can be tough going to teach the silence and nothingness of poetry. Luckily for us, Dong Li's recent poem, "when it is time" from Plume: Issue #130 June 2022 is an ideal example for discussion. Read the poem by clicking on the picture above.
So far as silence goes, the poem is masterful. In fact, you might say the poem rides on silence the same way a ship sails on the sea. This is interesting because it leaves the reader room to think and it also defies "weight." You feel a sense of freedom in reading the poem because it asks so little for you and gives back so much.
So what's it giving?
Other than the obvious moment of reflection and peace, the poem is actually a "confession" of the creative process. It tells you where art is born.
These two lines are the heart of the poem:
and you look back to the sky
whose blue recalls all blues
and what they do is cause the eye to sweep up and out of one's self. You become one of the "bridges" you've left behind. Art is the movement up and out of old blue into new blue. In the end, by diving deep into the sky, the artist becomes a magician:
you wave your hand
and it is becoming light
who creates light out of nothing. Your job as an artist is to pull poetry "out of thin air." But to do so, you have to leave yourself behind. So read the poem very carefully and listen to its silence and recognize that silence as your forever collaborator in poetry, and one whose contributions are frequently overlooked.
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