Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Order and Disorder


We live in an avalanche of information, disinformation, opinion, alternative facts and spin which has created a chaos of the brain. They call it Breaking News because it has fractured this country into coastal America of diversity, compassion and culture against flyover America, punitive, pious and militia minded. Athens and Sparta.

Artists make order out of chaos, as the cliché goes or at least the illusion of order. And that includes poets. You’d never know it based on some of the conceptual and quite confounding work hanging in galleries and between the covers of poetry books such as John Ashbery’s. It gives us pause but worth the effort.

The task of wrestling the disarray of life into a coherent canvas or page demands that the painter/writer plunge into the disorder first. As Stanley Kunitz, poet and essayist, put it, Order is greatest which holds in suspension the most disorder, holds it in such precarious balance that each instant threatens its overthrow.

If the poet, for instance, stays within the conventions handed down, he/she risks the integrity of her art for a wider audience. Of course creators want to be accessible but only after some effort is made by the reader to get at least a glimpse of something new, a shift in perception or a consideration of Language itself as a construct. So, what’s it about? Language poetry may not be ABOUT anything……except to call attention to the way words are freighted and often used to obscure truth or reinforce mediocrity and conventional values of commodification.

As Cubists abandoned the single POV so were scientists regarding space / time as Einstein did with the observed and observer in motion. A leap into the unknown which took decades to find a general audience. Each age heralds its new ways of seeing and hearing. Not necessarily with a clarion call but possibly a discord of trumpets.

When confronted with a poem that makes us squirm, that doesn’t compute in familiar ways, we ought to welcome it presuming the lines are more than wallpaper. It could be a serious poet stumbling home from a journey inside the watermelon, his own found-wilderness in the recesses of Imagination. Maybe it isn’t really red in there until exposed to air or maybe it’s a red sky with pits as black holes. The news of her universe may carry a touch of folly within the order, Dionysus and Apollo in a ferocious tango.         

The idea of order is not fixed. Kunitz again, Consider how lunatic the flow of traffic would seem to our ancestors. We can handle just a small measure of chaos. Then we reorganize the muddle and make of it a kind of order. Same with art. Yesterday’s blur is today’s garden at Giverny.


Sometimes the painter or poet brings to life, not so much a product as his process, the angst, erasures and vacillations. Everything is a work in progress. It’s as if the reader or viewer is being asked to enter the labor and experience the birth.

In these days of Trumpdom, there is a movement to smooth our rough edges, to ethnically cleanse our demography, to dumb-down and reject the urbane in favor of a simplistic model of an America long gone; a picture to hang over the couch which matches the throw pillows.

A case could be made that the Arts are to be defunded because artists are regarded as both unnecessary and faintly subversive. They are our advance eyes. They see around corners and speak a truth the Deplorables are deaf to.

Peggy’s poetry creates an order in which disparate images are joined with threads of connective tissue. As the world dissolves in rude pollution…an email of tigers painted in half-light at ease among the stones….men labor, swallowed in the clutch of mines, night and day reversed….the bliss of song, strummed guitars no longer blue…lifting shadows, possession, as bright wings flash their temporary blaze.

If the sort of order created in words or paint is not easily decipherable that’s because we are not yet fluent in their terms. Our senses are slow to move; too comfortable in rhyme and reason. Poetry gave it up long ago. The world of unreason is a Wonderland full of delights as Alice discovered.  

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