Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | August 16, 2011

The Temple of the Old Gods: In Defense of Poetry (with help from Jason Kirkey)

The Temple of the Old Gods

High priest

of the low art

scraping word & sound from muddy floor

of the temple

of sense &

Soil

Old rites

performed for dying

Gods

So many have left

for the new religion

that worships only efficiency & The New

packed into sterile, air-conditioned churches

of machine &

Oil

preaching prosperity gospel

bought with a culture of

Indulgence

New rites

performed for buying

Consumers

“Stop telling us what we are,”

they say.

“Your streams & your

Dreams

are Latin to us.

Tell us what to buy”

“Who are we?”

ask the few old souls

still listening to the poets’ song.

& from the dark temple

whose gods do not hide

even in death

whose

wooden pews

are still rooted to earth.

The reply comes from the

depths of Imagination,

the depths of forest &

Earth.

“You are song and story,

Imagination & memory,

body, blood & bone.

“You are love

stories lost

upon stories found

Gathered up & bound

with leaves

Of the deeply rooted tree

That remembers our home

Stories told in a poem

You are body, blood & bone.”

“Poetry is a dead art,” said my friend, a filmmaker, as we sat in a coffee house discussing art, philosophy, and, well, poetry—that same art he suggested was dead.  I did not take it personally; for he had a point—the fact that I am a poet and that we were having the discussion in the first place notwithstanding.  There is little room for poetry in the Modern world.  And this means far more than a choice of medium for the consumer, which is how one normally thinks of it. No—this is a choice between the poetic and the prosaic life, between the fast life of quickly-changing images/products and the slow life of the poet.  This is not like choosing between Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops; the poetic choice takes us out of the supermarket altogether.

What does it mean to be a poet at this moment in human history?  Is the poet really the practitioner of a dead art? The priest, as it were, in The Temple of the Old Gods?

I’d like to make an argument for poetry using the work of my colleague Jason Kirkey. For Kirkey, “speech and poetry are fundamentally rooted in the ecosystem.”  The poet has to the capacity to use words not as a mechanistic alternative nature—or even as a romantic reflection of it—but as a way to remain sensitive to and embedded in our ecological identity.  For the poet, like all mythmakers, is concerned deeply with identity.  Each poem is the poet’s claim for space in the world, its unspoken preface, “This is who I am.”

There is an estuary

Where streams and wild rivers meet

And mingle with the salted tides.

It gathers all the water to it

Like the afterlife of rain: inevitable!

I too must be an estuary of confluent tides—

This earth-body of antlered thoughts,

The decay of leaves: my branching mind.

Tumbling with stones and salmon toward the sea.

The rivers and the earth move through me.

Kirkey is claiming his place here as deeply embedded in and connected to the ecology of his home place.  His identity can be reduced neither to the isolated Cartesian mind nor to a machine metaphor of the Modern imagination.  He is the rain, the streams, a coming together of all that makes up his home place—I, like many Moderns, have lost a sense of a home place—and makes up his own mind.

Poetry is more than a medium.  It is a way of being in the world.  And it presents an opportunity for us in these times of crisis.  Logical arguments can only take us so far; to transform our lives, to live more sustainably and more meaningfully, we must find ways to communicate which connect us to our ecological place in the world.  When asked, “who are you?” the poet answers, “I am oikos—home—an ecology of body, mind, imagination, community; a web whose organic complexity is only understood through the paradoxical language of the poet.”

The words of the poet, like the ecology that makes up the poet’s community, body, and mind, are beautiful because they are rooted in these relationships and arise organically. They cannot be manufactured; they must be created, felt, birthed. “In these times of ecological crisis we ought to listen to our habitats,” writes Kirkey. “We can join in through poetry, becoming consonant with our places on this Earth.”

For more information on Jason Kirkey’s latest work, Estuaries, go to Hiraeth Press.

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