Imperfect, yet perfect: poetry

By the

February 8, 2001

“And it was at that age … Poetry arrived

in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where

it came from, from winter or a river.

I don’t know how or when,

no, they were not voices, they were not

words, nor silence,

but from a street I was summoned ?

from the branches of night,

abruptly from the others

among violent fires

or returning alone,

there I was without a face

and it touched me ?”

– Pablo Neruda, “Poetry”

For myself, as for Neruda, poetry has never been a choice. I write because I must write. I write because expressions and ideas and things that need to be said somehow appear, finding their way into the stillness of my thoughts and interjecting all that I see with the clarity of necessity. To write poetry is to try to write the choicest and perfect visions that my subconscious collects. What my mind sees, what my brain hears, what I somehow know, all of these are the basis of my poetry. What my poetry is composed of is the choicest, honest fragments that have made their path to my conscious, forcing me to somehow, in some way, make them known.

Poetry is a move to make known the unknowable and, in doing so, to somehow draw closer to the infinite, the perfect, the ideal. What poetry strives to be, however, it can never be. It can never be perfection; it can never be infinite; it can never be ideal. That is its inherent sadness.

Poetry’s joy, however, is that it still attempts to express an imperfect example of a perfect ideal. It can never hope to express that ideal, for such an ideal is beyond words, beyond vision and beyond the world in which we exist. But it can hope to create in the minds of the reader a sense of the imperfect ideal. How good a poet is depends on how close he or she comes to this imperfection.

The purpose of my poetry, no matter what Romantic scholars say, is not to describe the perfect, not to describe some vision ordinarily beyond mortals, but rather to describe the imperfections composing our ideas of the ideal.

The actual subject does not matter. What matters is that my writing somehow causes the reader to experience the same flowering of thought. The reader’s imperfect ideal will not be the same as mine. That’s fine. That’s good. That’s the whole purpose. While I agree that it is necessary to understand what the poet is driving at in order to understand his concept of the imperfect ideal, I know that I can never fully express to you what I mean. My words mean what they say. They are what they are, and so they contain in them the seeds of those imperfect ideals.

A personal example of this would be a poem I wrote a while ago, which described the ways my older brother has affected my life. The poem attempted to express, in many different ways, how he had not only fulfilled all the expectations of a brother but had even gone beyond those usual expectations. The ways he did this, however, were small, innocent and imperfect. When the reader reads that poem, I do not expect him to see these things the same way I did. I do not expect him to understand the expression of my feelings toward my brother. What I hope, though, is that the poem will provoke some similar feelings in the reader regarding some person he feels a certain way about. The poem about my brother is imperfect, for it is dependent upon my idea of him. Since it seeks to approach the ideal, however, and seeks to explain that, it is the closest imperfect ideal I can come to.

All poetry is dependent upon the individual reader’s response to the poet’s writing. Poetry is a movement to an imperfect perfection, in that it is a perfect thought of an imperfect ideal of any vision in any writer, reader or dreamer. That is poetry’s base. That is its purpose. That is its beauty. That is its key contradiction. Poetry can never hope to be the ideal, the perfection, for it is simply the expression of the imperfect. In this, it is the imperfect perfection, the imperfect ideal, making it (hypocritically and against all definitions I have just given) perfect.

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