On Fire with Poetry

27 August 2007 at 8:19 pm 11 comments

I just finished reading one of the most remarkable, stunning, moving, powerful books of poetry that I’ve ever read. It’s called Concerning the Book That Is the Body Of the Beloved by Gregory Orr, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. There was at least one poem that I thought was appropriate to my concept of energonomics:

To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That’s crudely put, but…

If we’re not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?

This is the kind of “life” that I try to live, that I have created the concept of energonomics to capture, especially when applied to psychology (i.e. “psychoenergonomics”). I believe it is possible to channel, to manage the energy flowing through my brain once it arrives from its source in the sun and through all of dumb matter. This poem captures the sense that we should be living joyfully (“If we’re not supposed to dance,/Why all this music?”). Orr speaks of the “spark,” the fire, the energy that burns brightly in one who is filled with a “life-wish” (rather than a death-wish). I recently learned of the demons that Orr has had to wrestle as a result of accidentally killing his brother when he was very young (see his entry in Allison and Gediman’s book This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women), so I know that he has had to struggle with the death-wish in the same way that I have. In This I Believe, he speaks of poetry helping him through these dark times (“I believe in poetry as a way of surviving the emotional chaos, spiritual confusions, and traumatic events that come with being alive…”). And he talks about how poetry that moves him helps him be more fully alive:

Whenever I read a poem that moves me, I know I’m not alone in the world. I feel a connection to the person who wrote it, knowing that he or she has gone through something similar to what I’ve experienced, or felt something like I have felt. And their poem gives me hope and courage, because I know that they survived, that their life force was strong enough to turn experience into words and shape it into meaning and then bring it toward me to share. The gift of their poem enters deeply into me and helps me live and believe in living. (This I Believe p. 177)

Wow! He describes exactly why I read poetry, why I memorize the poems that I have memorized (only a handful: Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day,” Rod Taylor’s “Just Like Apollo,” Brendan Kenneally’s “There Are Times When the Light,” Sylvia Plath’s “Black Rook in Rainy Weather”), and why I publish poetry (Albatross, now in its 22nd year). As he writes in the form of poetry:

Loss behind. The unknown
Ahead. Lifting up
The light of the poem
Like a lantern. Stepping out
Bravely into the dark.


Entry filed under: books, energonomics, poetry, psychoenergonomics.

Imaging Thought A Philosophy of (Energy) Flows

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. harvey  |  9 September 2007 at 3:52 am

    What a wonderful post. I must send you something for consideration for the next Albatross.

  • 2. harvey  |  10 September 2007 at 3:41 am

    Here’s a poem for Albatross (if you like it!). It’s going to be published in Moonshot. All the best. Harvey

    The shepherd

    The sky a clay-fired blue
    bull’s blood squeezes your stomach
    mixed with incense in the slaughterhouse air.

    Untie the tethered goat & take him down
    the coiled path through the hills
    past the groves, the shepherds, the broken stones

    to the desert stretched like parchment beneath
    an unrepentant, indifferent sky.
    Watch the salt-clotted stars grind round.

    In the morning leave him to heat & hunger
    the circling birds counting time
    sigh, start your long walk back to town.

  • 3. Richard Smyth  |  11 September 2007 at 1:40 am

    Harvey! Thanks for reading–and for posting. Wow–an incredible poem. Why don’t you send me 4 or 5. I really like this one and will publish it in #19. Take care, Richard

  • 4. harvey  |  15 September 2007 at 12:02 am

    OK Richard. Here’s another. In NZ English a ‘bogan’ is kind of a white trash boy racer. And as for Dogen, well…. This poem is called ‘Dōgen Bogan.’


    Dōgen Bogan

    Dōgen Bogan
    drove a Vauxhall car
    Dōgen Bogan
    kept his mind ajar
    mountains, rivers, streams, stars
    poured within that space
    in the rear-view mirror
    he spied a stranger’s face.

    Dōgen Bogan
    parked in his garage
    but for Dōgen Bogan
    the garage was a mirage
    the sound of no horn tooting
    was the sound of Dōgen’s horn
    & nobody came to greet him
    as nobody’s always home.

  • 5. harvey  |  15 September 2007 at 12:06 am

    This one’s also coming out in the book under the title ‘The family album’ but I have a note for the poem. Here I’ve tweaked the title: ‘The Zeus family album.’

    The Zeus family album

    My caresses
    would break the unglazed sky.

    I roll a monstrous thunderhead
    over the moonless seas of my childrens’ fears.

    In the dusty atrium of my empty palace
    I leaf through the family album:

    here’s a cache of fingers in my son’s amphorae,
    here’s my daughter’s copper mirror.

  • 6. harvey  |  15 September 2007 at 12:09 am

    This is very different in style and tone. It’s called ‘Give the drunkard his last drink.’

    Give the drunkard his last drink

    The junkie wants her needle
    she’s dying for a fix
    that bitch wont stop her craving
    give the junkie her last fix

    The drunkard’s feeling thirsty
    he wont sleep without his mix
    that bastard wont stop thirsting
    give the drunkard his last drink

    the stars and suns are burning
    through the children of the town
    the angels too are laughing
    through the tears of every clown

  • 7. harvey  |  15 September 2007 at 2:56 am

    Here’s a looser poem called ‘Flutter.’


    Her eyelids flutter
    on the first bend of the lake road
    her head slumps left
    on the passenger side window
    as if an afterthought
    her body rocks in short convulsions
    as inch-high waves crumble
    on the lake shore
    a bauble of spit
    falls from her chin
    as the night flower of her mouth
    draws the driver to the side of the road
    he grabs her mobile
    from the glove compartment’s jaws
    presses send
    dials 111
    then end
    then throws
    the mobile down on the back seat
    her eldest son enters a tunnel
    from stalking slow leaf-rustling
    in his balaclava
    no more real to him
    than the nameless dead
    he plugs in his Playstation
    last night
    he hunted with the i-pod on
    only on the sight
    of moving leaves
    to spot
    an alien invasion
    from an unseen saucer
    his hooded face traced on the window screen
    as the southbound train
    hits the tunnel
    the outer dark
    a quicktime movie
    pouring through his face
    his magazine
    promises new worlds
    orbiting unseen stars
    he thinks of her waiting for him
    the hospital sheets
    a bleached ice floe
    moving towards the floor
    outer space
    The last knock at the door

  • 8. harvey  |  15 September 2007 at 2:59 am

    Here’s one about the ‘old days’ in Gainesville. The ‘a’ in the line ‘difference with an a’ should be set in italic. Enjoy! Choose one or more as you wish. Harvey

    Unanswered questions of a Ph.D Eng. Candidate

    deleuze, deleuze
    in your pretty red shoes
    how do your rhizomes grow?

    with a logic of sense
    do they wind through the fence
    & claim your garden as their own?

    foucault, foucault
    how do you know
    the history of our sexuality?

    with an old textbook
    the words of a crook
    & the spoils of your archeology?

    derrida, derrida
    au dela de la de da
    how does your signature flow?

    with a difference with an a
    the debt you cannot pay
    & translators all in a row

  • 9. harvey  |  15 September 2007 at 3:00 am


    The lines

    the debt you cannot pay
    & translators all in a row

    Shouldn’t be in italics.

  • 10. harvey  |  15 September 2007 at 4:03 am

    And here’s the last one…’Nanosphere.’


    The Enemy of the World
    watery eyed, unkempt,
    finally captured after months in a hole.

    A lab coat prods his back dentures
    with a disposable spatula. How
    slow and compliant the prisoner moves
    like a rest home inmate.

    In this cosmos his capture
    shall be eclipsed by news
    of the accidental discovery of the end of time

    as weightless above this earth
    from the station console
    Irina checks the doppler shifts
    from the Sombrero, Andromeda, closer Tau Ceti.

    Aware of the pressure of the moment
    she pauses to gaze at the withered fingers
    of a passing river delta
    then tells Control her final confirmation:

    the expansion is over and the big crunch has begun
    the slow seven billion year retrenchment
    from universe to nanosphere.

    Her news crosses the twittering
    of the only known radio intelligence:

    0800 date line numbers
    psychic advice lines
    impending Serbian elections
    weather updates
    body counts
    Chinese operas
    Marilyn’s slow turn in a hall of mirrors
    Chico and the Man.

    The day’s journeying calls roll out
    within the bounded horizon of vast contracting dot.
    There is only so much time. And time is running back.

    The children watch television in the dark.

  • 11. harvey  |  5 October 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Hi Richard. You do read these comments, right? I’m getting ready to read ‘Dogen Bogen’ tomorrow at the Poetry Cafe and I’ve tweaked a line. Here’s the new version:

    Dōgen bogan

    Dogen Bogan
    drove a Vauxhall car
    Dōgen Bogan
    kept his mind ajar
    mountains, rivers, streams, stars
    poured within that space
    in the rear-view mirror
    he spied nobody’s face.

    Dōgen Bogan
    parked in his garage
    but for Dōgen Bogan
    the garage was a mirage
    the sound of no horn tooting
    was the sound of Dōgen’s horn
    & nobody came to greet him
    as nobody’s always home.


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