The ‘Lectric Collective reading, held on Dec. 9th at the Krowswork Gallery in Oakland was a mind and art expanding experience. Thanks to Sarah, Kelsa and Jill and Jasmine for putting together a great evening of art and poetry.
The theme of the night–accidental recordings and the framing of experience through the art of juxtaposition–made me think about the many tricks I play on myself, all the constraints I put on the writing of the poem in order to court the muse of chance. How do all these little accidents, mistakes, missteps, subconscious encounters, and forays into the unknown end up creating a poem–or a person, or a movement, for that matter?
I went back to the work of the philosopher Ken Wilber and found this diagram (projected onscreen during the reading) that depicts his theory of “All Quadrants, All Levels.” In it, he posits a description of the architecture of the cosmos that includes the interior experience of the individual (perceptions), the objective behavior of said individual (what can be seen and observed), the interior experience of the collective (culture), and the structures that the collective create in order to reflect the culture (society).
Using this rubric, any poem I write is mappable–and in fact, the poem itself can be seen as a map indicating where I am in my life at the very moment that I write it. The poem comes into being in the same way that my self emerges into a moment.
The idea of writing through the various layers of individual and collective experience reminded me of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge‘s poetic statement from the anthology, Lyric Postmodernisms (edited by by the late Reginald Shepherd):
“That particular conjunction of events which includes the history of your body, your experience, and your art vertically, and the time and circumstances you are in horizontally, seeks an expression that is inevitably unique, or new.”
“I have an intuition of a new form, as a new expertise in the topology of expression, emotion, and culture.”
To allow a poem to inhabit a space that is personal, historical, cultural and social seems like another way of explicating imagistically Wilber’s sense of levels and quadrants. For instance, in these lines from her poem, “Tan Tien,” Bersenbrugge approaches the notion of the body as a physical entity, but also one that exists in relation to other people as a link between the natural and manmade structures of the world:
If being by yourself separates from your symmetry, which is
the axis of your spine in the concrete sense, but becomes a suspension
in your spine like a layer of sand under the paving stones of a courtyard
or on a plain, you have to humbly seek out a person who can listen to you,
on a street crowded with bicycles at night, their bells ringing.