Saturday, March 12, 2016

Sunday Mini-Challenge: The Paramour

The first written poetry of our Western tradition began in Greece between the seventh and sixth centuries BC.  Standing at the border of the preliterate, poets like Archilochos and Anakreon found an alphabet in which to ferry verbal expression into the symbolic language of the mind. The act transformed culture and history and who we are. (The literate is now disappearing behind visual culture, borne by wordless ferry-workers.)

Where were the first literate poets going when they wrote their song down? It wasn’t to philosophy or myth; instead, they dazzled to the arrow-thwocks of erotic love. Sappho, another of the first poets of the literate age, wrote:

Eros, once again limb-loosener whirls me
sweetbitter, impossible to fight off, stealing up
(Fr. 130)

From this nugget Ann Carson wrote her magnificent monograph on the exhilarating encounter with poetry, Eros The Bittersweet. It’s one of those deep-poetry books to keep on the shelf with Rilke’s Letters to A Young Poet and Wallace Stevens’ The Necessary Angel. If you’re a poet, you’ll find yourself getting happily lost in the wonder of the deep familiar: it resounds in the breast-bone.

Carson asserts that the first literate poets wrote about a shocking, wild, bittersweet and irresistible encounter with the Other. It was not an especially happy event: eros assaults us, tears us loose from our center, makes us painfully aware of our edges and limitations.

To her, the god of poetry is Eros the Alphabet, the first mover whose sharpness and sweetness and bitterness is fundamentally rooted in words. Oral and literate societies fall in love differently. In oral cultures I and Thou are liquid, one. In the literate age writers stepped ashore and out of the forest; looking back they tried to name the wild country of the Other.

What resulted was a culture of surrender and sundering, eternally waylaid yet maddeningly close. We learn more in losing love, but we’d throw all that away in a heartbeat for just one more magic night. And have written poems endlessly to that effect since the sixth century BC.

For any who have burned at the cross of trying to trying to name this experience in our poems it’s a daunting, taunting exercise.  What is the primary lesson here? The first written poetry was erotic: quintessentially of the moment, a startling fresh discovery. Its object was an entrancing Other—not yet the Beloved of lasting relationship but a paramour, exiting, dangerous, disruptive as literacy was in overthrowing oral culture.

“Paramour” comes from French and means a lover, especially the illicit partner of a married person. This is the secret, shady, wild side of love, irresistible and disastrous. S/he is the inamorato and the sugar daddy, the courtesan and main squeeze. The erotic other is what comes in the first dizzy draft we write in haste, overcome with a verbal scent both wildly intoxicating and dangerous, possibly poisonous.

In psychology this paramour is the anima who draws us into unconscious depths across a bridge where external and internal are hard to distinguish. That dreamy land after the sated swoon, the collective anguish of so many emptied beds. This poetry advances by receding through so many faint blue doors, as if it were trying to name at last the definitive preliterate forest from which it emerged.

In myth and poetry,  she (and for you gals, He, or maybe She too—the Paramour inverts your heart’s desire every whichway) is La Dame Sans Merci on her cold moonlit hill, walking among the graves of her suitors; he is the swoony suitor Eros who takes Psyche off to his night-bound castle in the air. She is Grendel’s dam grinning at Beowulf in her drowned court;  he is the elegant vampire in the smoky jazz bar, black-as-night cape with the thrilling scarlet silk interior, smiling to reveal curved fangs long and sharp for deepest penetration. She is the sibyl up in the tree singing something lost in the breeze and the seal-man half in the waters just offshore of midnight. Weirdly male and female inflect the visage of every one, a strange mix that suggest something about human identity.

The paramour is everywhere the sun don’t quite shine that burns so relentlessly in us. The paramour may not even be sexual at all; that mask is blithely discarded, like hosiery, as s/he descends further back into the primal forest we age from and to.

Arch to our outermost extremes, the paramour is also parodoxically what is deepest within us. (Hedgewitch has written many times about the internal paramour—a master class in that encounter.)

How did we learn to write poems? We were caught up by a burning wind, and then we learned to write it down with yearning minds. Over our poetic careers we learn how to master desire, finally—that’s the growing-up of learning craft—but we only do so by staying surrendered, learning how to somehow keep our arms opened wide peering into the veil of night and diving into the deep end of the poem. The encounter our completed poems bottle must first be poured, and it is there that the paramour’s essence may be found.

This challenge is about awe—the towering part of the wave. The dark wood in green eyes. The poetic which inspired Mae West once to proclaim “Honey, when I’m good, I’m good—but when I’m bad, I’m great.”

For this challenge, lets go back to the edge of that forest and name the paramours who led us to write. Let’s celebrate the badness of that defining encounter which has inspired our best work. Celebrate them individually or serially, angelically or down and dirty—swamp-prime.

Write about sex, sexualized experience, sexless burning, the kiss of strange winds, the sexiness of death. Write about the arrow’s sheer barb. Or whatever else the paramour might mean to you—say, the strange wood we enter starting the next poem.

Write an original poem about your encounter with the paramour(s), what you found and what you learned.

It’s Poetry 101, sixth-century-BC style. Hit us with your best shot!


Magaly Guerrero said...

Dearest Brendan, I've written about the thing(s) that led me to write poetry (and to writing in general) a couple of times before. But no one has ever asked me for it in the way you just did. Wow. I so love how you manage to make your prompt read like poetry. Thank you.

Happiest Saturday, everyone! ♥

Kerry O'Connor said...

I feel like I have learnt so much in simply reading this post, Brendan. Like Magaly, I became totally wrapped up in the magic of your words - such a task seems monumental but you have inspired.

Hannah said...

Definitely inspiring, Brendan...thank you, for the challenge. I hope I've managed to touch upon a sliver of what you're asking. :)

Gillena Cox said...

This is a deeply inspiring prompt, there are so many aspects of sub-prompts offered from reading your introduction, I stuck to a short form though and wrote a haibun

A lovely weekend to all

much love...

hedgewitch said...

Your prompt is a poem in itself, and it would be very hard not to respond to the siren call you weave into it. I've a bit of a more dried-up perspective these days on the paramour, but I have done my best to look for what is left in that room whose dark was once lit by the highest candle. Thanks, Brendan, for such a deep plunge.


What a brilliant post. I savored every word. Delicious prompting, Brendan.

brudberg said...

Love this.. so hard to justice to such marvelous prompting... but it was fun writing...

Brendan said...

Thanks guys ... I knew if I opened this door the pond would start flooding through.

Outlawyer said...

Hey Brendan, thanks for the very thoughtful prompt. k.

Bekkie Sanchez said...

I have written about my poetry, what drives it and writing poems before but couldn't describe it in the way you asked for so I hope my offering is good enough. Thank you, Brendon!

C.C. said...

Very much enjoyed reading this prompt. I think it is one that I will refer back to again! Thanks, Brendan :-)

Angie said...

I loosely went with naming the paramour who led me to write, which is my father, who is a dark soul. Not sure if this fits. Thanks for the prompt.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Mine is a double whammy - combined with Grapeling's word list and written in Sapphic Verse. Thanks for lighting a fire underneath me, Brendan.

Anonymous said...

Brendan this was not only an exciting, very informative read, but it also stirred up the very feelings that are associated with my recent history of this--this erotic love. Paramour. You write wonderfully. Thanks for this and can't wait to read everyone!

Anonymous said...

The prompt was a phenomenal discussion of the most basic of needs/wants. I found myself reanalyzing my real, virtual, and fictional paramours.
For my prose poem, I focused on the fictional paramours that I find are becoming more common and more the truth, and thus the harder to think upon and live with.
I hope I took the "proper" approach -- only 2nd time I've been in the imaginary garden -- and found the writings of others exceedingly fascinating.

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

Dear Brendan, I have written those kinds of poems many times over many years, and may or may not write another for you now ... but I too must say what exhilaration it is to read your gorgeous words in describing this prompt. I sent the link to my best friend to say, 'Give yourself a treat; just read this.' You have already made my day. xx said...

For personal reasons, I am not putting this on my blog.
Hope that is okay with you.


Had I not been held hostage
by the hypnotic hazel
of your eyes,

I would not have felt
a touch upon my soul,
a quickening of my pulse,

as my body melted.
That longing, aching–
never sated–nearly changed

both our lives. Though we parted,
I started writing again. May my
memories hold true for all time.

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

Well, I couldn't not write one. It got all mixed up with the dVerse haibun prompt about the moon. (I guess it's mini, as haibuns go.)

grapeling said...

late, but couldn't not... thanks for a brilliant post, B ~