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Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Kevin Hart on poem as prayer

Here's a poem by Kevin Hart, and below that, a little bit from a 1995 interview by John Kinsella with Kevin Hart ....

Prayer

O come, in any way you want,
In morning sunlight fooling in the leaves
Or in thick bouts of rain that soak my head

Because of what the darkness said

Or come, though far too slowly for my eye to see,
Like a dark hair that fades to gray

Come with the wind that wraps my house

Or winter light that slants upon a page

Because the beast is stirring in its cage

Or come in raw and ragged smells
Of gumleaves dangling down at noon
Or in the undertow of love
When she's away

Because a night creeps through the day

Come as you used to, years ago,
When I first fell for you

In the deep calm of an autumn morning
Beginning with the cooing of a dove

Because of love, the lightest love

Or if that's not your way these days
Because of me, because
Of something dead in me,
Come like a jagged knife into my gut

Because your touch will surely cut

Come any way you want
But come


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John Kinsella: The prayer as poem? The prayer doesn't need an audience of people.

Kevin Hart: That's right. In fact, it should try to exclude it.

JK: Right. But we discuss poetry in the light of being read. Where does the prayer fit; what is the prayer poetically?

KH: Prayer is the greatest irruption of immanence that humans can perform. It is poetry taken to the limit, speech turned toward the unsayable. To speak to God. Imagine that! But what can one say to God? At its deepest level a true prayer says nothing at all, simply 'yes' and — as Jacques Derrida has reminded us — 'yes' to that 'yes'. Of course, a prayer can be overheard, or read by anyone once it is committed to paper. And the destination of a prayer can be bent this way or that, even in the act of meditation itself. One speaks to God, but also of God, and sometimes of 'God'.

JK: In your poem, "Three Prayers", it seems to me that you are making a prayer, but — and this is what poeticizes it — to me you're also discussing the very practice we're talking about. About the making of a prayer and about where it sits in terms of the poetic and in terms of language. For example, you start off by saying, "Master of energy and silence / Embracer of contradictions"; you have direct access if you like. You're making direct access. Later on, in almost a humanising, quite a sensual way, and in a very personal and familiar way, you'll say, "You do not speak to me of death. You do not pester me, like some. Far too busy with the universe, Sometimes not busy enough, Searching out our softer parts, Trying to squeeze yourself in: Showing off your famous night sky Like a child with a new drawing". There's that wonderful humanity and sort of humanising aspect about it, where the master of energy has become the familiar person in the room you're sitting next door to on Sunday afternoon, having a chat with. Can you talk about that process? How prayer has shifted into something quite familiar and very familiarly poetic, as the prayer has become the poem?

KH: People sometimes think that the spiritual world is distinct from, and even distant from, this world, 'the company of flesh and blood', as Wordsworth so memorably put it. But the spiritual world is within this one: not as a secret, but as a radiance. To think of the spiritual world as a secret is to court idols, and the only virtue there is that God appears in the cracks of idols. There, often enough, is the first moment of glimpsing the radiance. We find it through God's grace and our attention. Poetry is one form of attention, and poetry does not lead us to another world: it shows us this world, this relationship, this chair, this ivy on the outside wall. That! it says; its what is almost completely absorbed in saying that!. But its how can change our lives. Prayer is attention taken to the limit, though a poem can become prayer, even despite itself.

JK: Do you find a need as a poet, as the Romantics did, as Walpole and Gray did, making their tour of the Alps, for the Mont Blanc kind of thing; do you find a need to recharge the spiritual batteries, or the creative batteries, to remove yourself from your immediate writing and intellectual environment, step aside and physically look back? I know that in your poems you have those moments, often in the garden, or somewhere close to your home, where you capture a part of Arcadia, if you like, that separation. You cross the boundary in some way and you capture a glimpse of pure Nature, if you like, and then you go back into the world and you rejoice in the fact that you've had that glimpse. Do you consciously do that, or are they given moments which you can't construct in the same way as the Romantics would hope to have done?

KH: I think the Romantics were more interested in themselves than in nature, and the romantic sublime both threatens and confirms a unique self. And yet the romantic problem of how to present the unpresentable is still with us. Neither modernism nor postmodernism has taken us outside that field. What are the great unpresentables? God and the soul? Yes, indeed. But also death. There is no greater force of negativity, no more powerful urge to create, than the thought of death.

JK: This is where Weil would say every separation is a link. Working on the principle that the more we go through the processes of disassociating ourselves from the one truly unknown, that is death, the closer we're moving towards it as a matter of avoiding it. Part of relocating ourselves around that central actuality.

KH: Rilke regarded the creative moment as an ecstatic relation with death. But death forbids us to look directly at it. To speak directly of death or God is the most difficult thing of all. Who was it said that sincere poets are always bad?

JK: I'm not sure. There are many who could have!

KH: I suspect that one can speak of death or God only by looking to one side of them. You must not try to get the origin of the poem in focus, you must try to lose the origin in the way the poem requires of you.

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