11/8/2022 0 Comments
On lyric wishing
I wanted to think more about lyric wishing so this is something more like a question than a thought. I was thinking about the wishing in Sofia Drew's "Excavation," a poem that begins with a seven year old wish to grow up to be a marine biologist, that includes the wish (or the liking) to believe "that the pōhutukawa leaves that had jumped / and fallen face-first / onto setting concrete / were fossils," and ends with each square of skin of the blurred overexposed future fossil self likened to "pōhutukawa leaves / blown into the wind without a wish." Here is all the movement between past and future and present moment that I was thinking about when I wrote yesterday's post, and here too are a series of wishes including the absence of the wish of the pōhutukawa leaves blown into the wind. As a way of thinking about time now lost to us, wishing is a lost grammatical tense, a lost grammatical marker that is like the subjunctive tense (also not often used) in that it refers not to what is, but what might be - but the wishing tense, or optative tense, expresses not so much doubt, imprecision and uncertainty but an ideal, a sense of potential, what might, could, should happen, should we wish for it. I was reading about it in Jhumpa Lahiri's wonderful book Translating Myself and Others, in which she quotes Aristotle's distinction between poetry and history: "the poet's function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might happen, what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity. The poet and the historian differ not be writing in verse or in prose..The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen." For this phrase, he uses the optative tense, the marker of a wish, and later he uses a phrase translated variously as "ought to happen" or "ought to be." Poetry isn't about wishing in any ordinary way (except for when it can be, when the poet wishes it to be) and to try and think of every poem as a kind of disguised or declared wish of the poet would be even more limiting than thinking of every dream as wish-fulfilment, which led Freud to come up with some unlikely interpretations and eventually to read everything in terms of a death-drive. But poetry is radically conditional. The way a poem is always somehow - if it works - about more than it is about, the way a poem is always both autobiographical and not autobiographical at the same time, whether or not it draws on real-life autobiographical details, the way a poem is always about what might be, or would be, or needs to be for the poem to work itself out right, with all the elements in the relation to each other that will give rise to resonance: is this a way of thinking about the optative mode as the mode of poetry? And if so, is it a way of opening up a kind of psychological grammar that we need to think about the future creatively, and to manage to think intellectually and strategically about the crises we are in without limits, without defenses, without paralysis, but in a spirit of optative play and possibility?
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