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May Day Union Songs Saturday, May 1, 6:30 pm Texas Center for Documentary Photography 2104 E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Austin Featuring the Melancholy Ramblers, Alice Embree and Boone Taylor Free to Union Members, National Lawyers Guild members and Texas Observer subscribers. Tickets $35 or the purchase of an Observer subscription at the door. Noi sian le triste penne isbigottite le cesoiuzze e’l coltellin dolente. We are the poor, bewildered quills, The little scissors and the grieving penknife. Cavalcanti projects his own grievous feelings of imaginative inadequacy onto the writer’s very tools \(quills and the knives to In Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino makes an insightful comment that enlarges on Cavalcanti’s lines, creating a statement about the experience of literature itself: all “realities” and “fantasies” can take on form only by means of writing, in which outwardness and innerness, the world and I, experience and fantasy, appear composed of the same verbal material. The polymorphic visions of the eyes and the spirit are contained in uniform lines of small or capital letters, periods, commas, parentheses pages of signs, packed as closely together as grains of sand, representing the many-sided spectacle of the world as a surface that is always the same and always different, like dunes shifted by the desert wind. I am reminded of Calvino’s description of the literal limits of art: that all the incitement and grace of literature has to take place in the lineup of written characters on the page. “There is then creative reading as well as creative writing,” Emerson says in “The American Scholar” in a statement that could be a credo for the reader of poems. Poetry alerts us to what is deepest in ourselves it arouses a spiritual desire which it also gratifies. It attains what it avows. But it can only do so with the reader’s imaginative collaboration and even complicity. The writer creates through words a felt world which only the reader can vivify and internalize. Writing is embodiment. Reading is contact. In the preface to Obra poetica, Jorge Luis Borges writes: fruit with the palate, not in the fruit itself; in a similar way \(I would lines of symbols printed on the pages of a book. What is essential is the aesthetic act, the thrill, the almost physical emotion that comes with each reading. Borges continues on to suggest that poetry can work its magic by fulfilling our profound need to “recover a past or prefigure a future.” Poetry depends on the mutuality of writer and reader. The symbols on the page alone are insufficient. Borges was a fabulist and in the foreword to his first book of poems he went even further to suggest that poetry goes beyond mutuality, beyond identification, into identity itself: If in the following pages there is some successful verse or other, may the reader forgive me the audacity of having written it before him. We are all one; our inconsequential minds are much alike, and circumstances so influence us that it is something of an accident that you are the reader and I the writer the unsure, ardent writer of my verses. This is funny and brilliant and perhaps disingenuous, but there is also a truth in it which has to do with a common sensation of reading: the eerie feeling that we are composing what we are responding to. In The Redress of Poetry Seamus Heaney calls this “the fluid, exhilarating moment which lies at the heart of any memorable reading, the undisappointed joy of finding that everything holds up and an swers the desire that it awakens.” Poetry creates its own autonomous world, and what that world asks from us it also answers within us…. The reader exists on the horizon of the poem. The message in the bottle may seem to be speaking to the poet alone, or to God, or to nobody, but the reader is the one who finds and overhears it, who unseals the bottle and lets the language emerge. The reader becomes the listener, letting the poem voice and rediscover itself as it is read. THE SHOCK, THE SWOON, THE BLISS I take the poet as a maker who sends out a formal enticement, a provocation, a challenge. I encounter I am encountered by a work of art. For me, that encounter is active, inquisitive, relentless, disturbing, exuberant, daring, and beholden. Poets speak of the shock, the swoon, and the bliss of writing, but why not also speak of the shock, the swoon, and the bliss of reading? In honor of National Poetry Month, the above is excerpted with permission from Chapter One of How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, by Edward Hirsch, published by Harcourt Brace and Company. Edward Hirsch is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Earthly Measures and On Love. He teaches at the University of Houston, and last year was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. This excerpt is partially funded through a grant from the Austin Writers’ League, in cooperation with the Texas Commission on the Arts. APRIL 16, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27