Malachi Black is the author of the limited edition chapbook Echolocation (Float Press, 2010) and the forthcoming chapbook Quarantine (Argos Books, 2012). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including Poetry, Boston Review, Blackbird, Harvard Review, and Gulf Coast, among others, and in several recent and forthcoming anthologies, including Discoveries: New Writing from the Iowa Review (Spring 2012). The recipient of a 2009 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry magazine and the Poetry Foundation, he has also received recent fellowships and awards from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The MacDowell Colony, the University of Texas at Austin’s Michener Center for Writers, and the University of Utah, where is currently a Vice Presidential Fellow. He was the subject of an Emerging Poet profile by Mark Jarman in the Fall 2011 issue of the Academy of American Poets’ American Poet magazine.
Statement of Poetics
As a reader, I
turn to poetry, above all, for companionship, and for all that true
companionship implies: stimulation and provocation, insight and illumination,
empathy and understanding, delight and entertainment.
As a writer, I know that poems occasion themselves. But in almost every important sense, writing is a deeper kind of reading. Each is a form of listening.
Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom. So Robert Frost, one of the great American aphorists, has said. While there is an undeniable elegance in the virtuosic simplicity of Frost’s remark—and a great sum of truth—I would have the statement somewhat revised.
Poetry begins in unrest. Of this much I am relatively certain: that agitation, however mild, is what activates the use of language, poetic and otherwise. Whether interrogative, exclamatory, imperative, or declarative, language arises not from a state of rest or perfect ease but from a sense of need. Silence is perfect equilibrium; as such, it is the absence of all poetry.
Yeats, I think, was oversimplifying (for rhetorical effect) when he famously distinguished between the poetically generative quarrels with himself and the rhetorically generative quarrels with others. In truth, poetry requires nothing more than conflict. Whether the conflict is with oneself, one’s language, one’s predecessors, one’s peers, one’s loved ones, one’s God, or one’s government is immaterial. Poems, after all, are songs for the speaking voice. And a certain extremity almost always attends an outburst of song.
A poem ends when it has answered itself, although it may have solved nothing.
What A. E. states in Ulysses is right: The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring. But in poetry, there is one more test: Would I memorize it? Would I add it to myself, mind and body? Which is to say: How deep a life does it give to me?
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