The great American poet e. e. cummings said “Poetry happens to be an art”. If you look up happens in the dictionary you’ll find when used as a verb, as in this case, it means something that ensues as an effect or result of an action or an event. However, when used in the phrase “as it happens” it can also mean “as a matter of fact”. cummings wasn’t one to use words idly, he could have said “poetry is an art”, but he chose not to in order to say something about the nature of poetry. As the latter definition says much the same thing as the simple “is an art” statement, I think he was leaning towards the first definition. Poetry occurs, and it is an art.
However poetry doesn’t just happen to be art by default. There has been plenty of verse, blank or otherwise, put down on paper no one would consider art. Heck, there’s plenty of stuff fitting that description I wouldn’t dignify with the name poetry, or its authors as poets, let alone art. Poetry as art only occurs as a result of the actions of a poet of singular abilities. Kingston, Ontario, Canada resident Bruce Kauffman’s new book of poetry, published by Hidden Brook Press, The Texture of Days in Ash and Leaf, happens to be the work of such a poet.
The creation of poetry is akin to walking a tightrope. Words are shaped with the intent of stimulating the reader’s intellect in such a way that they create an emotional resonance within him or her. If the perfect balance between brain and heart aren’t maintained, readers either end up feeling manipulated or nothing at all. One of the first things you’ll notice upon reading any of Kauffman’s poetry is how he never slips to either side. Not once do you feel like you’re being pushed, or even nudged, to feel anything. Instead, as you read you find yourself walking in step with him down whatever path he’s exploring, but being given the freedom to experience it for yourself. He might point out the landmarks he thinks are important, but he leaves you free to react to them as you wish.
One of the reasons Kauffman is such a good guide is his ability to bring the world of each poem to life. Instead of simply reading the words on the page visuals are evoked in your mind. However, unlike a work of fiction where the visuals you’re inspired to create establish the physical environment a work takes place in, in this case they establish an emotional landscape. Using imagery taken from the natural world he is able create pictures in our heads which accentuate the emotional content of the poem. In the poem “Reading”, describing listening to an author read, Kauffman gives us the following image, “her words / with the wings / of raven/flew into the twilight / and back through/the night / hung in the air / like a snowflake / in autumn / then turned into angels / as her voice/cleared the sky”.
If you’ve ever been to a reading you’ll know how at times you can enter an almost trance-like state listening to an author recite his or her work. Words really do seem to fly across the room towards you and you attempt to catch them, and their meanings, with your mind. Like an early snowfall the words are beautiful as they float down to earth but it won’t be long before they vanish. Kauffman is also very deliberate in his choice of a raven in this piece. In some Native American traditions Raven is the creator of life. In Kauffman’s preface to the book he talks about how a certain reading series he attended served to inspire his poetry and provided the impetus for him to start writing again. Describing the words as taking flight with the wings of a raven suggests both something of the creative energy residing in them and in the urge to create they inspired.