It was the annual Warton Lecture at the British Academy this week, in which Andrea Brady sought to affirm the value of poetry in difficult times. Loosely, her method was to celebrate and discuss poems of love which had been significant for her, in hope of pointing the audience back to those that might have been significant for them, with the larger aim of exploring how this might help us determine a better future. Referencing work by, amongst others: Lisa Robertson, Denise Riley, Gwendolyn Brooks, Marvell, Shakespeare, Brady explored how love can be defined in language; how love might be released from its fixation on endings and catastrophe; and how love in its many forms might be resolute, particularly in terrible times, playing neatly on those two meanings of determination, vis-à-vis resolve and delineation. From the heart as ‘stupid fist raised in protest’ (Sophie Robinson), to the almost-opening lines of John Wieners’ transcendent ‘A Poem for Painters’ –
I look for love. / My lips stand out / dry and cracked with want / of it. / Oh it is well. / My poem shall show the need for it.
Wieners was regarded by Robert Creeley as ‘the most articulate poet of human love’ of his time, and this fine poem certainly argues the case.
During the Q&A, Marina Warner asked specifically, why poetry? Why poetry, as opposed to other forms? Why do we feel the connectivity here most keenly? It was a two-part question and Brady’s answer looked primarily to address Warner’s second point which leant more towards gender, and I was left thinking about the why poetry specifically part. It struck me that beyond the notion of the usable ‘thing’ or gift of the poem to the reader, the poet’s own experience with the grapple and leap of process, writing in a space that offers both constraint and freedom, is analogous to an involvement in love, or indeed ‘a kind of love making‘ – the raw craft and technique that goes toward floating the ecstatic, an act almost supernaturally galvanised, yet simultaneously a thing of form and rigour.
As Robert Duncan, recalling his first experience of hearing a teacher reading H.D.’s work, says in his H.D. Book – ‘as if, were I to come to the heart of the matter in them, I would come too to this woman’s heart and to my own.’ Prose can be lucid and profoundly moving, compellingly so, but there is rarely that same sense of physicality, of enactment. That sense of grasping the live wire of the heart. Brady ended by quoting from Keston Sutherland’s essay, ‘Infinite Exhaustion’ – ‘poetry makes resound right now and in this world the promise of whatever we would risk this crushed life for.’ An exhortation if nothing else to live well and to write as though your heart depends upon it.
Andrea Brady’s tremendous Archive of the Now – https://www.archiveofthenow.org/
A Poem for Painters – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/54888