THE POEM MUST HAVE A DOOR
Inside the singer?
Who is that singing
When you sit down in the temple
of someone else’s god
can you overhear the meaning?
When you sit quiet in the temple
who is the god?
Why do gods have temples?
Why not anywhere?
Because a building teaches true
when priests wobble.
Is it that a building cannot lie?
In no art is the mind of the artist
more exposed than in architecture—
all the aspirations, envisionings,
assumptions, computations, all
the necessary compromises.
Without compromise there is no art
only self-indulgence, self-expression,
A building is for other people—
and that is the essence of art,
why architecture and poetry are most alike:
both use materials that belong to the world,
metal, stone, words, grammars, concretes, plastics, rhythms
and not to the artist
the artist owns nothing but the art,
brings to the work nothing but the art.
The building is for others,
no lonely tower,
the building is paid for by someone else
for all the someone elses, bodies, lives,
the art is pure agency,
making mind’s mark on matter,
and the poem is for others,
the poem fails if others cannot walk in it dance in it
the poem must have floors and walls,
control the words so that we move
free of doubt and nourished by coherence
through spaces we had not known before
and now are home
the poem must have a door.
A poem is pure compromise between self and language,
the mind of someone and the mind of language
and the minds of everybody else
sacred compromises union rules
zoning boards and financiers
the material itself, the poem
rests firm upon its words,
the building holds the mind up to the sky
and says think yourself inside me
make yourself at home
as many of you as there are
because a city
lets you be apart together
we look up from the valley of the heart.
So who is that singing in the song
who makes you think
what passes through your head
when you sit quiet in the temple?
Every building is a temple—
now name the god.
Terrifying beauty links the mind endures.
February 2, 2013
Robert Kelly is an award winning American poet who has published over 50 books of poetry and prose. He is the Co-Director of the Written Arts Program at Bard College, where he has taught since 1961.