- Beyond Reasons
I can’t say that I have a deep feeling for God or His prophets, of whatever religion, yet I think I am religious and I regard my poetry as the primary manifestation of this. Living as I do in New Mexico, I am in touch with the spirit of the land, the anthropomorphic culture of the Indian, the Spanish-Mexican inheritance, and whatever the other races bring to the area. While the mountains don’t really speak to me or La Llorona moan in my direction, the nature and myth of the place seep through the pores.
This may not be evident in how I write now. Earlier work, however, dealt more obviously with New Mexico as context for my words. But, though I have shifted to more experimental ways, my meditations, with mystery as central logos, continue. I like my mystery raw, which is why I am not attracted to mysticism, the organized forms of mystery.
Language is part of the mystery, perhaps the essence of it. When I call to mind James Hillman’s view of image as a form of language, his emphasis on dream work and soul making, I am caught up in the connection between speech and the most serious thought we engage in. Here is where humans find their deepest sources, the primeval archetypes, the soul-making imagination. We all share in psyche, Hillman says, echoing Emerson’s “universal soul” or “oversoul.” Psyche is not—at least not yet—a substance we can grip in a scientific way, but there must be something, some glue that binds us together in the human enterprise.
While language is ever suspect, it is also the mooring of heaven and hell to the earth. For don’t we aspire to the holding of belief in some vessel from which we might eat and drink? And isn’t such a symbolism articulated—even formed—by language (and the arts)?
Hillman, in emphasizing the underworld of dream work, does not lose track of the necessity of concept. He integrates it into a broader context, in relationship to mystery, in the struggle to annul complete opacity. This is to say that concept doesn’t become clear until it is imbued with psyche, with soul making, “soul” as process rather than something already fully existent in relation to God.
I feel the sacred as day-to-day activity, in the very wording of the poem, at its best. Is there a purely secular poetry? Surely, that’s true; one runs across it at all times anywhere. This is work in which there is no felt presence [End Page 145] behind the words—that is, no sense of mystery. It can be found at times in surrealism, language writing, or any of the more standard brands. In perceiving and receiving, one may or may not depend on soul-making sources. I find much sense of the sacred in, for example, Charles Bukowski’s work, no matter that it is generally far removed in expression from religious belief. The very subculture in which his words traffic with each other gives us a taste of the inferno, although not without humor.
If writing is to be a redemptive act, the sacral fact of language ought to be acknowledged with or without mystical trappings. God may not exist in any of our mundane terms, yet when we speak, it is against the background of the numinous.
Disbelieving as I do, I am always testing the boundaries of my disbelief, though I don’t think I do this consciously. Writing is the most religious act I perform. Poetry as I see it assumes the perfectibility of language. This is not necessarily a conceptualized assumption—it might be quite the other way. No one knows if the sacred is reasonable or not; we most often take it that faith is involved, and faith—faith in the words we choose—often goes beyond reasons. Certainly the word mystery means by definition “obscure” or “puzzling” or “unknown.”
Mystery surrounds us, is in us, preferably in writing. And the yearning for transcendence speaks to us, from us, as a vision of what eludes us, as...