This piece was first published in Hex Enduction Quarterly #5 in the Fall of 2021. It came to me in a flash a few days before the submission deadline.
I heard about a professional poet who was fired for her poetic rumination on the irrelevance of poetry the other day. I didn’t dig too deeply into the full story; I wanted to avoid taking away from the poetry of that brut fact—a profession, arguably founded on the two-faced angst of expression, closing ranks when foundational angst is expressed, does feel pretty two-faced, to me. The clickbait writes itself: from rumination to ruination—and you won’t believe what happened next.
Maybe she’d let the cat out of the bag? An initiate’s vow broken, somehow? I don’t know—how is poetry a profession, anyway? What does a poet profess?
Maybe that’s what the poet was getting at? Turning to relevance by coming to ruin—that is pure poetry.
I took a circuitous detour in the hours after reading her story and eventually found my way, quite by accident, in the pages of ΣΧΟΛΗ (“School”), an academic journal of ancient culture and philosophy. There, I found two articles on poetry most pure—poetry as the wild generation of words.
In the first, Dr. Oleg Donskikh demonstrates how words “devoid of visual association” like “being” (ontos) and “nature” (physis) gradually emerged in the Old World, furnishing classical vocabularies with the abstract metaphors necessary for philosophical thought to eventually grow out of the chrysalis of mythological imagery.
In the second, he argues that much of that word creation came out of the mouth of poets: “…it is, firstly, poetry that raised the verbal culture to such a level that the possibilities of using language expanded drastically and extreme generalizations became possible. Secondly, poetry performed a reflection upon mythology and formulated the problems that became the starting point of philosophical and scientific research. Poetry also inspired philosophers and scholars to use poetic forms to express their ideas and improve their language.”
I’m tempted to leave it to the professionals to ponder the parallels with our verbal cultures today; I’d also like to make reckless pronouncements that strike at the heart of civilization. I’m torn. I want to profess ignorance and feel an unbearable urge to scream.
Are we done rearranging the furniture in the house of wisdom? Can we burn this place down to the ground now?
I read most of Dr. Oleg’s work through Google Translate, whose output, ironically, seemed easier to understand than his actual writing in English. I wonder if he ever contemplates his relevance, sitting in his office at the Novosibirsk State University of Economics and Management. Did he see the tweet that got the poet fired? Was he torn? Did he scream?