Continuing on the topic of thing poems, I wanted to delve further into why this is such an enduring theme in poetry (and other art forms). When we truly stop and look, it engenders a deeper encounter with the world we habitually interact with, pausing for a time the express train of thoughts and busyness which normally consumes our attention. Engaging fully with an object that lies beyond our imagination serves to refresh that sensibility, reminding us that there is a world out there, independent and untouched by our frantic machinations.
Another poet who transforms the everyday through the lens of his tender gaze is the Polish Nobel Laureate, Czeslaw Milosz. Here is one of his celebratory poems:
I liked the bellows operated by rope.
A hand or foot pedal – I don’t remember which.
But that blowing, and the blazing of the fire!
And a piece of iron in the fire, held there by tongs,
Red, softened for the anvil,
Beaten with a hammer, bent into a horseshoe,
Thrown in a bucket of water, sizzle, steam.
And horses hitched to be shod,
Tossing their manes; and in the grass by the river
Plowshares, sledge runners, harrows waiting for repair.
At the entrance, my bare feet on the dirt floor,
Here, gusts of heat; at my back, white clouds.
I stare and stare. It seems I was called for this:
To glorify things just because they are.
(translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass)
When I first began to write a few years ago I remember being surprised how the practice of writing brought me closer to the physical world as well as the imaginative one. So, when one evening a tiny visitor arrived, charging up and down my laptop cable, I chose to stop and pay attention. This poem captures our encounter.
You cruise on bandied legs
around bends of black cable,
flashing red warning.
Then those spotted shields
split and lift and two thin
flimsy wings unfurl, billowing
until, filled with bare air,
they take the weight
of armour plating
Ríonach Aiken, January 2009