Dodge Poetry Fest Panel – Poetry as Prayer/Poetry as Curse

Posted: October 30, 2010 in Events
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Panelists: Tara Betts, Matthew Dickman, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Doughty (Doc) Long

Regarding authors and their readers, the uses of poetry generally reflect academic exercises, cathartic venting, or some hybrid of the two. Applications for poetry, however, are endless. Poetry as Prayer/Poetry as Curse explored not only poems that prayed and cursed but also aspects behind their various intentions and inspirations. The poets present made no great jumps on their own, but reached great heights of pontification by building on one another’s points like layers slowly angling towards a specific peak. I’m not particularly religious and definitely would not put myself on the same plane of spirituality to which the panelists seem to subscribe, but there were more than enough interesting connections and talking points throughout the discussion to keeps anyone’s fancy.

Poetry was addressed as a dialog that leads to intent, wherein objective is the only thing that matters in defining a poem as prayer or curse. It was noted that there is “humanity and malevolence in every phrase” and that the act of writing can be conceived as a discourse with a parallel self. In the mindset of the latter, people can open up and say things they might not be able to others whether they be strangers or more intimate relations.

On an almost similar bent, the theory that the very first poem was offered the first time someone figured out how to repeat something conjures up notions of incantations that could be construed as prayer or curse. A great (if melodramatic) example of this is that of Bible readings in exorcist movies. Although not a discourse between a parallel self, the incantation is not exactly read to anything in particular. Instead it is read aloud, and generates different effects for those who hear and read it.

Speaking to inspiration behind curses, it was noted that meanness never makes art, but rather that anger and praise are great places to start because they “share the same insides” of desire and hopelessness. This notion was further tightened by reiterating intent as a driving force, whereby meanness speaks toward the intended sense by “pulling out the barbs inherent in language.”

An interesting connection between creation/destruction was brought up, in which writing poems of prayer and curse comes down to making something with what was lost or that which is wanted but not present, respectively looking back or forward, which reflects the ambiguous duality of nature mentioned earlier. Adding to this insight, it was pointed out that cursing is important as a contrast for illuminating care, and often poets and poems tear things down to make room for something new.

The notion that poetry builds structure out of destroyed language, and in doing so shows both success and failure, elaborated on themes and influences of joy and sorrow. The failure could be taken as the fact that the existing language could not adequately reflect the stressed conditions experienced by the author, while the success could be seen as both the ability to reconstruct language to suit one’s own needs as well as the finished product. Completing the extended metaphor, one panelist said sorrow and joy pull together through art as celebration.

When asked if prayer could be a metaphor, panelists almost universally agreed that it is something akin to a piece of a “higher power” that resides in people. Poets, specifically, were called empty vessels who wait for the filling influence of their respective muses and also fill themselves with their regionally inherent or otherwise adopted literary influences. This sense of poetry as prayer and faith as art was said to be a kind of humanization in that it moderates or civilizes the bad seeds.

Finally, almost perfectly exemplifying the metaphor of poetry as prayer (if God listened anyway), the notion of nommo was brought up and defined as lyricism that can change perception. It speaks to a sense of the immediate at a time when an aura of materialism is portrayed through increasingly abstract representations of feelings, pulling away from the desperation of prayer.


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