Sometimes when people write a “poetics” they begin by talking about war. Silliman’s The New Sentence begins that way. Williams’s Introduction to The Wedge. A war is hiding within Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads. A war stands behind Adorno’s “Lyric Poetry and Society.” From our time, Andrew Joron’s “The Cry at Zero” and Kazim Ali’s “A Brief Poetics: to Layla Al-Attar.”
Instead, I will talk about birth, that other epic. I will not say, however, that writing a poem is like giving birth, or that the poem is like a child. The poem has no body; it’s lighter than air. It can be allowed to die. In “Morning Song,” when Plath writes, “The clear vowels rise like balloons” she is and is not speaking of the baby’s cries. Notice that she uses the article “The,” rather than the possessive “Your,” though she is speaking to the baby throughout the poem. A baby’s cries are solid and demanding, they demand the mother’s body. But the vowel sounds in the poem, these can drift upward, can belong to another realm – not another “world,” for it is not a world. “I foam to wheat,” she writes in “Ariel.” The desire (as in many of Plath’s poems) is to escape the solidity of earth – to escape into the foam or froth of language. But the paradox is there; just as the clear vowels are not, but also are, the baby’s cries, to escape the world is to enter it: to foam to wheat.