Opinion: Hearing beyond hearing, seeing beyond seeing
While walking around town after the April 7 poetry reading by Chard deNiord at Isley Library, I found myself thinking in new ways. I thought of the times I have felt poems forming while gazing at misty Adirondack peaks or biking by lush Vermont fields, only to feel them move on past, never to be caught on paper. And I thought, too, of the ones I have caught when I took the time to stop and listen. Although it might be that poems come to us just as often, as Mr. deNiord noted, when we are on the fly driving down the interstate (“Interstate” is the title of his recent book) or running errands.
Time can feel more precious when it is eaten up by daily errands and demands. As it slips away we can become acutely aware of what we are missing or not capturing. Or, as William Carlos Williams wrote, that which we can’t get from the news. We might feel a poem (or inspirations of other kinds) hovering in the parking lot as we pull up at the market, or one might suddenly appear at our window, demanding to be let in. When our days become especially hectic, we don’t just want those poems and inspirations. We need them. I think many of us, whether writers or not, can identify with this feeling.
But what especially stayed with me from deNiord’s reading was what he said about sound, specifically the quality of sound in writing. “To hear beyond hearing and to see beyond seeing,” was how he described it.” When we write, our listening can enhance or alter our seeing, and sometimes a deeper seeing can bring about new sounds and ways of listening. Poems rely a great deal on their sound and music whether or not they rhyme, and sometimes have even more of this when they don’t. They have assonance and consonance, long o’s and short ah’s and shushes and clinks and moans. They have alliteration and repetition. But these readily heard sounds are just the beginning. What comes next, at least what we hope for, is the hearing that is beyond hearing.
When deNiord spoke about this it reminded me of something I read several years ago when I found myself enamored of Japanese poetry, especially of the era of Matsuo Basho, the 17th-century poet of haiku and renga. The Japanese have a phrase, amari-no-kokoro, meaning that the heart and soul of the poem must reach far beyond the words themselves, leaving an indelible aftertaste. This concept has always stayed with me, and I’ve learned over the years how hard it is to achieve. While this was originally said of poetry, it seems it could be said of many forms of writing, and also of speech.
Thinking about this concept of kokoro in turn sends me back to the idea of hearing beyond hearing and seeing beyond seeing. Both phrases refer to something beyond what is visible and audible, beyond ourselves. And both seem to go beyond their own words even. What I feel they speak to, is a deep listening within oneself in the moment of creating. The Japanese spoke of a deep engagement with the senses and with emotion as a requisite to writing poems. They spoke of an engagement with the natural world and its temporality.
If a poet catches just the right words and pauses, and finds their right placement, they are able to help the reader reach this place of deep listening in themselves. They might take the reader to a place beyond the limited thinking and reasoning mind, beyond the words themselves.
These places could be many — a deeper connection with ourselves or others, deeper communion with nature or the world, a larger awareness, or something even further. Some poets, like Li Young-Lee, speak of tapping into Universe Mind when they write. Others, like Basho, might call it the nether regions of the heart. Either way, it sounds to me like a place of expansion — beyond hearing and beyond seeing — and a worthwhile place to go.
To watch the curtains fly as a sign
of the old spirits on the move again, passing through.
I take them in through the mouthpiece
of my bones and let them out again.
— From the poem “I Keep the Windows Open” by Chard deNiord
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