A Good Use of Time

We live ‘in’ a mystery, a space bounded by a beyond. We don’t know how to define this space except AS a between. An awareness of the between arose again (after its heyday in antiquity) in modern times because the conceptual mind kept getting lost in definitions drawing on skepticism,
on the one hand, and apocalyptic, on the other.

Between the unknown extremes lies a fluid porous space open to others as others and shaped by a movement toward the threshold of our (collective/individual) being. This dynamic space seems to be the tacit dimension of poetry. So applying the long rich tradition of metaxological research in the service of poetry in commentaries on poems seems a good use of time.

On the Metaxy and the Conceptual Mind

The ‘between,’ metaxy, foregrounds the way the conceptual mind charts experience in terms of extremes like life and death. Conceptual dependence on immanent wholes is dissolved by metaxical mindfulness. The extremes are conventions and the between is living space shaped around openness toward transcendent others. The whole is not the whole. The pantheistic immanentism of Romanticism breaks away from these counterfeit wholes in the between, where all is passage.

Zagajewsky’s Comic-Passionate “Impassivity”

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from Unseen Hand (2009).

The ending of this characteristically limpid poem may trouble the waters a little but if we take the poem as an indicator or sign of the between, not so much.

The title suggests a preoccupation with a state of mind associated with remote indifferent divinity or emotional detachment. But the poem discloses a space rapturously beheld.

Let’s work it through. It’s a cunning piece of work, limply called ‘sacred’ as such poetry may be called.

First: Limpidity not transparency! Differences matter. Between memory and, it would seem, its other. Not oblivion but ‘promise of a new life.’ So ‘what’ is between memory and such a promise? What is the ‘it’ referred to?

The ‘moment’ revealed so to say because no ‘one’ saw it—-well, ‘only…’ something absolute but absolutely other: ‘serenity, glory, bliss’ saw it.

Does the poet speak for himself? Or some other?

The next section is down to earth. A still life. But: The color of the plum is both purple and violet ‘as in a Spanish canvas.’ (Note the naive usage ‘in it’ which nonetheless reminds us of the ‘materiality’ and intermediates quality of things-as-they-appear.)

The things here are not just ordinary, they create a metaxical order, a luminous space between real and ideal. So yes down to earth but ‘earth’ as a realm where givens are known as gifts of the spirit.

Impassivity?

Earth as in our time appears most vividly in nostalgia. But the ‘new life’ perhaps promised by the poem is not nostalgic, it is hyper-real. The hyper-real comes about through metaxyturn, not dialectic but dialogue with a transcendent other.

Especially— look!—-that disused ballpoint, having been used to write dark poems. Not like this one: other to it. Sad spent penis, streaked full of memories….

Not the erotic self-fulfillment but a certain peace beyond understanding.

The poem speaks for itself. The ‘whole’ of the poem results from metaxyturn, which Zagajewski fairly often lets happen as he writes.

The Welling

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Michael Longley, The Stairwell.

Naming the birds calling from the pages of “the huge sadness of the Iliad” is an essential act of poetry. Longley’s poems, however short, often funnel this wild energy from between his lifelong fidelity to Ancient Greek forms of the imagination and the contemporary occasion. The between flows in several directions here. The welling is between the emptiness of death and the deathless origins of his love. Characteristic of metaxical orientation toward what exceeds finite mind, this poem is overflowing with communication of purpose: “Honking, settling in front of one another,/ Proud of their feather-power”—-the last phrase expressing the paradoxical power of feathers, evocative of the double as in winged words.

Jane Clarke’s Reserve

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From Jane Clarke The River Bloodaxe 2015

Jane Clarke’s reserve is the pit of her power. From the comparison of The Shannon to a draughthorse in harness, the poem quietly, effortlessly, unfolds its mystery. The imagery reaches a climax with ‘drops fall in unison,’ and many a poet would end things there. But the image isn’t everything. And here we are blessed with a kind of revelation of form as disciplined sequence. The poetry of what happens has become a cliche. Here what happens is seen as a process experienced by those willing to follow the ‘master’ or so wonderfully here the heron into the day. We lean into experience, we ‘catch’ as the rhythm takes over, we pull back in yielding to the momentum and glide, we release.
Isn’t that what poets — what poems— do? Isn’t that the ‘inner form’ of the poetry that happens with and for us? Isn’t that fulfillment of the promise of flow in the best sense?
It’s a really good poem that makes new and vital some of mankind’s most intimate intuitions.

Inner Form Simplified

To reach Metaxyturn, where the participating consciousness becomes the site of agapeic otherness, the work of art goes through two stages. 1. Through dialectics reaching the abyss of the self on the edge of abyss/the divine passage (think Beckett). Here asymmetric relativity replaces the relativity of dialectic. Dialogue with otherness interrupts. 2. Witness. The overfullness of presence of the divine other’s passage in the between. Think Bonnefoy’s resolute fidelity beyond nihilism. Presence. Hope.

Chord Progression as Final Form in Milosz Poem

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The powerful emotions expressed here may make us assume a lack of structure. Let’s say it has a chord progression, from objective reality through an increasingly complex intersubjective sequence. Passion becomes dialectical but no less erotic for that. And as if in a flash of lightning a kind of posthumous agapeic apocalypse establishes a new ground for the poem. I call this moment Metaxyturn: it establishes a luminous space that comprehends the poetry itself. It’s this chord progression that allows the final form of the poem to emerge.