I recently mentioned Brenda Hillman, whose Loose Sugar (scroll down for review) I own and love, and how I feel distant from her Gnostic sensibilities, even as it profoundly shape her poetics, which I find resonant. Yes, there is a contradiction here.
I might be coming close, thanks to “On Song, Lyric, and Strings,” a piece she wrote that clarifies my recent reflections on the lyric. You can see her argument in Section 2, where she offers lyric as “an element in poetry, not a type” and talks about how “once lyric meant unbroken music, but since the nineteenth century, it may be broken.” I now realize my position, which is close to this, isn’t so much anti-lyrical after all.
Hillman also provides what I thought was a hilarious though insightful comparison between Emily Dickinson and Eminem, which I’ll quote here for certain key terms that mean a lot to the work I do (emphases mine)
In lyrics, identity quests might be aided when the certainty of a rhythm is crossed with a question; Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody—who are you?” and Eminem’s line “I’m Slim Shady I’m the real Shady” have in common the fact that their speakers present contradictory riddles as deflections for saying who they think they are—Dickinson in iambic and Eminem in trochaic rap. Much pop music has this gnostic quality, making animate assertions about losing the self while finding it. To the complaint that contemporary poetry is too musically inaccessible, I’d note that the temporary difficulties of such poetry instruct us about possibilities of meaningful expression of the quotidian…
A lot of this makes sense to me, except for the question of how essential it is to Gnostic thought that it is about “losing the self while finding it.” If left at that, then it’s something that fits with my own poetic sensibilities. I may even accept the idea of knowledge as revealed in a-logical mystery, but I feel close to an understanding here.
I think I like the way Loose Sugar and other work by Hillman presents dualities without resolving them in a synthesis (Hegelian or something else). I think I can appreciate her use of Gnostic thought and alchemy as specific forms of negative capability or as a way to still function even when holding two fundamentally opposing views (I’m referring to the is-it-Fitzgerald-or-not bit in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). I’m just not sure it’s my way of doing so, since there are a whole lot of other approaches to the binary, such as apophenia.
Hillman’s article, which I only read last night is eerily in sync with a lot of what I’ve written in an essay I just finished, so much so that I am compelled to revise my essay and mention the Hillman to avoid being suspected of plagiarism.
On top of that, Hillman also specifically mentions Holderlin, Robert Duncan, Walter Benjamin, Paul Celan, Gerald Manley Hopkins (an influence on W.S. Graham and John Berryman), and Annie Finch. I can’t help but wonder if this is this is the pneuma approaching.