The speaker of “Closet” seems to think that finding words “in here” is insufficient. Where do words belong?
I don’t think of words as such until they’re out of my head, my mouth,
and part of the physical world (as sound or print) and the social order
(as signs). When they’re in me, they’re not exactly words, not yet.
They’re mired in a kind of subjective hash, so mucked with
interiority—their meanings private, peculiar, often inaccurate—that
their boundaries don’t hold. Self-words, I guess—which are fine for me
but unfit for public consumption. I mean, even the poems I “memorize”
crumble sadly inside me: “Churning and churning in the whitening gyro /
The auction cannot hear the auctioneer” So, if there’s a word (or line
of poetry) in me, in the closet of me, it’s both trapped and alloyed.
It’s somewhere it only half belongs. And the poem can rescue such words
by relocating them someplace where my lapses and fluctuations don’t
dent or dim them quite so much.
The isolation of this speaker is enhanced by his act of speaking alone. Is this an ars poetica?
I think of the ars poetica as having a didactic purpose and force that
“Closet” lacks. This poem, among other things, dramatizes how I
wrestle, over and over again, with claustrophobic conceits (definition
poems) and forms (small, short-lined poems). My artistic habits put me
in a sort of closet that’s both a haven and a cage. I might be able to
write prose poems, or something, for a while, but I eventually return
to this kind of poem. “Closet” attempts to give a definitive account of
what writing and circulating such a poem is like: someone speaks from a
jumbled privacy, through barriers of self and clenched metaphor, to
someone else who wonders whether the speaker is really talking to
anyone but himself. It’s more descriptive than prescriptive, but it
does record what the art of poetry is like for me, so you might say
it’s just an extraordinarily parochial ars poetica, if such a thing