WHAT MAKES US WHO AND WHAT WE ARE?
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Friedrich Nietzsche
“Let your love be like the misty rains, coming softly, but flooding the river. “Malagasay proverb
“It's so curious: one can resist tears and 'behave' very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer... and everything collapses.” Colette
“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops... at all.” Emily Dickinson
“A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." C.S. Lewis
“People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad.” Marcel Proust
LIFE, LOVE, LOSS, HOPE, ETERNITY, DEATH
What a poet does is distill life into words. That in itself doesn’t seem hard, but there is a problem. In order to write a poem, that captures life, a poet then needs to understand what life is. I’ve never claimed, nor will I here, that I am wise. But wisdom isn’t knowledge, so much, as it is an awareness of good choices. I do not have omniscience nor omnipotence, so I neither know all things, nor can affect all things through my acts. But I’ve watched and lived, I‘ve paid the cost of trying to understand what I do not already, and I’ve fallen many times. I’ve been called lazy, foolish, ugly, stupid, and more. I’ve been ignored, hated, forgotten, and more. And from every moment of my life both good and bad I’ve distilled into my perspective upon life, love, loss, hope, eternity, and death.
I believe that Poetry is born from the soul. It is an organic creative process. When I have a poem in me, it is as much channeled as it is written. I am not suggesting that there is a spirit guide or such when I create a poem, I am someone who believes in many things but not so much that, but, it is entirely true that when I write a poem what comes out of me did not come from the logic of my mind. It existed prior to my writing it out, and exists afterwards upon the page.
However organic the process, poetry is in fact logical. In addition to evoking emotion and images, it is also very ordered. While some poets write using absolutes of rhythm and rhyme, others avoid this. But the lack of order in itself creates a pattern, both with and without rhythm and rhyme it is both recognizable to the human mind for the patterns it creates, and new and unique for the ways patterns are thrown out and molded anew.
I've been told that poetry is akin to jazz music and see the connection. But rather, I think it is phrasing words to create a way to express image and emotion. The pattern it creates is valuable and interesting, but is less important than ultimately how it serves the subject. Writing about an act of anger or passion in a quiet rhyme-less way makes the reader feel that the motion or passion is slowly building. Writing about such acts in a short, hard, choppy sound evokes the emotions, and stirs the reader.
It is important to be mindful of the patterns and sounds, and I am, but more, I want to create verisimilitude through my words. If I am writing of a warrior's angst I hope to allow the reader to divine the motive and reasons behind such angst. I have worked in the field of history, and political science, and I have a great interest in the myths and legends that have been the foundations of many of global culture's stories of morality, and fidelity, and truth.
I am a poet, or, an artist of the word. I am not a scientist of the word. I consider my words to be important but more so from the subject than the use of words. This perhaps marks me as different than many poets. But I do love many styles of poetry and the works of many diversely talented poets. I am asked often who I write like or am influenced by. The two poets I have read most are William Carlos Williams, and Emily Dickinson. But while I love their work, I would not suggest that they are the influences upon my writing. If I could state an influence it comes from great teachers, a desire to express, and people who listened to my words. I've always learned by doing, and my experiences are shaped and molded as I do.
Being a Christian I am often filled with awe towards the Eternal, and am fascinated how we beings of flesh, finite and soft, respond to crisis, and command. Our fates and destinies are intertwined, but we are ultimately responsible solely to our own sense of morality and honor and our desire to be something. I believe that life is good, am mostly happy, but also write from a fear of the enormity of the truths I am too small to understand.
I am fascinated by great writers and great poems. I think that the greatest poem in history is Beowulf, and I'd suggest that my writing, if not similar to the style evokes the subject and outlook of that great poem. I do not know the writer of that great work, but I owe him a debt of thanks for inspiring me.
The subjects I write of are influenced by my outlook of the world and it's history. Global culture is a wonderfully diverse and fascinating thing. It lives and breathes, and changes and reflects change. To me writing about the world we live is a requirement, as is the fantasy tales I tell, and the personally reflective poems I write. We live in a world that huge, in a cosmos that is yawning across the span of possibilities. I am not a dreamer, I am not filled with whimsy, but I am amazed by the world, see it in so many colors, and wish to reflect its grandeur in my work.
People have told me that they do not “get” poetry. While I've been told that my poetry is accessible to non-poetry readers I am content that it won't reach everybody. No area of the world of creative arts is able to guarantee 100% success. But I want to offer that people who invest themselves in poetry get the point, understand it, and gain a great deal by trying. James Dickey rightfully said that Poetry is highest human achievement. It is a wonderful thing, and being a poet is something I mindfully embrace.
LOVE AND SORROW, PLEASURE AND PAIN
“Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939, translated from French by Lewis Galantière
I write here to speak out loud of things that get written about and thought about a great deal, but were never really understood by me. Love, Loss, Joy, Fear, and Sorrow all manifest themselves in my life, but until I embraced my being a poet, they were often looked upon and felt from a distance, almost as an observer rather than participant in existence. Love is the great object of our search in life, and yet, why do I seek it? It is almost an addiction, coupled by fear of loss and rejection, I seek acceptance, and embrace it. But I know it is likely to be a fleeting thing. I cannot control others, nor do I wish to do so, but that aspect of love, being a drama with two actors, neither knowing if the dialogue from the other will be a good thing or bad, is nearly irresistible. The thought that I might be worthy of love has only been a recent development, and so while I stood and watched as others did whatever it took to soothe their need for love, I did not. I am married. I have a son. I am supposed to be content.
“Love withers under constraints: its very essence is liberty: it is compatible neither with obedience, jealousy, nor fear: it is there most pure, perfect, and unlimited where its votaries live in confidence, equality and unreserve.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley
But life isn’t always so easy, to say, I am content because I should be. When I embraced being a poet finally, in 2005 looking down upon the still form of my brother who had had two heart attacks at the age of 44 (he, BTW, recovered), I realized that things would change. I realized that I might have lived ignoring what I am, and die before the moment was perfect to be. So I stepped out and decided to be what I was born and raised to be, a written observer of life, in poetic form. That opened doors for me, awakened my soul, and, left me woefully unprepared to foresee what would happen to me next. Despite having all that I needed, I believed that I did not have what I desired. And in opening my heart, I began to write love poetry. In writing love poetry I came into the orbit of numerous wonderful, but wounded people. And I saw, for the first time, that everyone is truly wounded, and that love is the only thing that soothes our pain. Being loved comes as the greatest need, beyond food and drink I say. Without love there is only pain of existence. And without love, there is no purpose. We exist, but that is not enough, unless we are redeemed by love.
“Achilles' cursed anger sing, O goddess, that son of Peleus, which started a myriad sufferings for the Achaeans. “ Homer
How many times have you been wounded by life? How many times did the bleeding never seem that it would stop? Pain from our soul never stops bleeding, it never does, because we are not meant to survive, we are fragile and impermanent. The concept of being human is often one that considers life great and fears death when both are worth embracing. The human body is covered with skin, is filled with flesh, blood, and bones, and it is not a durable product. When you smoke cigarettes they stain the insides, when you drink alcohol it pickles the liver, when you eat fatty foods the fat coats your veins and arteries with plaque that will lead to death. The things we consider to bring us pleasure leave marks upon us. Life is a very good thing, mind you, I do not wish to die, nor be dead right now. But I think it is important that we embrace all the human experience and grow towards understanding who we are by what we think about the end. I also would argue that in order to live we must examine our own humanity, our past, our future, we need to taste everything with taste, smell every exotic aroma, and by living, make our life something bigger than simple survival and existence. Why is the issue of embracing death and living life to experience everything so important? We are unable to appreciate this existence without understanding how brief it is in the span of time and the depths and wonders of the universe. If the afterlife exists, and I believe it does, how do we ascertain what it is, and what do we need to do to get the best seats? I am a Christian, albeit when I say Born Again Christian I do not refer to the social and political concept of that, I am Green, Socialistic, and view the difference in the world’s people to be beautiful, not threatening. I believe in many things about this world, and have a frame of reference and moral guideposts in my acceptance of Christ Jesus. But even that does not tell me why there is so much pain, why there is so much misery in the existence here on earth. I am wounded by it all and so I wonder how it functions that a perfect God could have created a world that has become so imperfect.
“To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy power which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates”
Percy Bysshe Shelley
I write a good deal of dark poetry. I do not do so because I am unhappy, but rather to express the sadness or anger that is within me. Expressing it through the rage of a poet’s pen, versus violence or verbal abuse or other criminal actions is a far better response. This isn’t to self aggrandize, rather it is to explain that while some people express their pains of life in a variety of unhealthy ways, poetry allows me to speak to the woes I face, and feel better for having done so. Unlike my epic poetry, and narrative prose, where I invest myself into a fictional work, my dark poetry reflects my heart, worries, and even how I might feel should I be in a different circumstance. Some people are not able to understand, for whatever reasons, that a poet takes upon himself or herself, the voice of another at times, not because we wish to avoid blame, or role play as someone other than our selves, but to see the world through different eyes and then tell the world what it is like. So please, when reading understand, that while my heart is occasionally broken, my feelings hurt, my soul burdened by life, in general I am quite happy. I could use more money, I could use better health, but overall, I think life is good. I love my family and friends, I love my work, I love poetry, and my world, however dangerous and sad, is still a wonderful place to live.
“Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.” Aristotle
Who am I? I know who I am, I know how I got here, and I know what I think is important. I am a poet, and a poet has to have translucent skin, to reflect our soul. A poet must have eyes that see beyond the outside layers of skin, we have to see the world we live in for what it is. We have to have a voice that can explode thunderously or whisper angelically, on paper. And we have to care about the world we live upon, and in. I grew up in a small town of Wisconsin in the 1960’s era. I longed to be touched and held and loved, but learned to keep my distance. There was a shockingly huge amount of hurt in life, but there were also wonders. When I kissed the woman who became my wife the first time there was such a rush, when I saw my dad dying in front of me there was a major blow to my heart, and all the while I watched it unfold. Poets are often asked where their words come from, and I have no doubt some have inspiration, from God or otherwise intangible sources, they have talents and skills to bring words together and make them dance, or cry, or they have a subject burning upon their heart that they pour out through the filter of words and insight.
“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” Leonard Cohen
Publishing and collecting my poems is not without some sadness. My parents never saw me succeed. My father died in 1998 and I made some of my first steps as a successful adult briefly afterward, and I became a father myself (of the world’s greatest child), and my dad never saw that. I was always a source of trouble for him, he never quite saw me in victory, but he was my dad, and I love him and miss him. My mother lives today, as I write this, in gloriously fine health for an 84 year old woman, but for Alzheimer's disease which has left her unable to appreciate, or understand, what I am doing when I write. I deeply miss her, despite her remaining presence.
“Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason. ” Novalis
And what should I say to end this? Death is a good thing? While we all wish to live forever, since our bodies decay, not a good thing, but a necessary thing. Sadness is worthwhile? No, I doubt that. I think that the reason we experience such pain now, in this existence is that in the next life, the afterlife so to speak, we should have something to compare our joy with there, and this life will give that. I once was asked if I believed in Capital Punishment and I said no because I believed in eternal justice, that God would answer the question. That person replied that they didn’t believe in God, or anything beyond this existence, so that was not a soothing answer for them. But I absolutely believe that there is far more in the world and beyond it that we can ever know. And therefore, all I am asking, is for the reader of this to consider beyond their own existence, and perhaps by that, how they might improve their world and outlook. I believe that God is good, if also mysterious, and I know we must suffer, for reasons I do not quite understand.
"Wretched I lie, dead with desire, pierced through my bones, with the bitter pains the Gods have given me." Archilochus
My poetry is dedicated to all the people in my life who taught me to love, and gave me love. My wife Beth, my son Jonathan, my friends Russ, Michael and Richard, my friends and my family. All of you made my life better than it should have ever been, and I am in your debt.
MY BIOGRAPHY “Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today.” James Dean
It isn’t hard to say a place and a date, but it is hard to express a feeling about each place and time from a perspective of its relevance in my existence.
I was born on October 1, 1963, in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota, given up for adoption to a family from Northeast Minneapolis, and had one brother, and two Siamese cats. I remember very little about it, except for being young and having a hero type brother. My dad was a manager of a restaurant, my mom had been an office management/secretarial worker. It was a working class neighborhood, and Northeast still looks much the same, but for the encroachment of city, and ethnic diversity. We lived there until October of 1966.
We moved from there to Port Edwards, Wisconsin, in 1966 which was a small town, in the middle of the state, and was part of a paper making center of towns and cities. My father managed a foundry, my mother raised two boys. We lived there until May of 1978, my brother one year short of graduating, me about to enter high school. Life in Port Edwards was good, I know, but for me it was a cold place, with people interested in status and wealth. I should also say, while I wasn’t abused or hurt in anyway, I didn’t have many friends there either.
Moving to Neillsville Wisconsin in 1978 my family had made many changes, my father changed jobs, my brother graduated and left for his year of college, my mother worked for a home for troubled kids, and I adored my new school and friends. I came into contact with some fine learning, some wonderful teachers, and my friends all encouraged me to learn and read and grow, personally. Without those friends I would never have grown into me, and for their role in my development, I am deeply grateful.
In Fall of 1982 I went to a small two year college following graduation, in Marshfield Wisconsin, where I suffered from depression, loneliness, and bad grades. I attempted suicide, I grew desperate to learn who I was, mentally and spiritually, and I wrote letters to friends, and spent a great many hours trying to cope with my new reality, of failures, no friends, and hunger.
I left Wisconsin in 1983 for university in Duluth Minnesota, thereby starting a decade of education, friends and spiritual growth. I met my wife Beth in Duluth, my best friend Russ, I dealt with people of powerful intellect, and ambitions, and I saw my life in better perspective. I believed I was an artist, who liked history and who should write for a living. I was wrong, as a matter of fact, but it was the first time in my life I thought I had an answer to who I was.
And since graduation from two universities with History and Political Science degrees, I’ve taught, worked in a factory, worked in a metal shop, worked as a tutor, and worked doing even more mind numbing labor. And I wrote. I married Beth, we’ve lived across the US. In North Carolina, Arizona, North Dakota, Minnesota, and we’ve had cats, Simone, Mischa, Sophia, and Katya. My greatest work is my parenting of my son Jonathan, who was born in 1998.
I began writing for print considerations and online in 2000, and I’ve never stopped since then. I live in Rockford Minnesota, a small town, and great place for my son to be raised.
“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” Henry David Thoreau
A LIFE OF RAVENS author Alex Ness with 27 artists (Sharayah Press)
MYTHIC MEMORIES author Alex Ness with artist Trent Westbrook
LANCELOT co author Alex Ness, G.F. Evrard, Michael May, and 10 artists (Diminuendo Press)
AMONGST THE RUINS author Alex Ness (Diminuendo Press)
A short story (five pages) in JOSH HOWARD PRESENTS: SASQUATCH (VIPER COMICS)
A short story (five pages) in MYSTERIOUS VISIONS: AFTER HOURS #3 (SPA)
SAVAGE PAST: LIFT HIGH THE RAVEN BANNER with Daniel Mann, An illustrated epic poem.