Encoding: a poetic

Encoding: a poetic                                      Poets House Native Innovation spring 2013


When I am above a couple of thousand feet high, my astigmatism narrows and the higher I go, the more I can see perfectly, without wearing glasses. My internal encoding craves mountains. Any sense of imagery, existing within me, would seem to follow seeing, genetically speaking, poetry, too.


What you do in your own life encodes you, possibly as much as what you are born to. I came of age cropping tobacco, working in factories, in construction, and breaking horses down below, on the Piedmont, and worked waters from the mountains to the coast, eventually becoming a commercial fisher for several years. My dad was a cotton picker; horses broke on both sides, as well. And Dad’s family grew the three sisters as their staple food surrounding them. We come from builders and fishers, growers and breakers, from working hands and backs, rowing, and from living close to the land. When I am near pickers, laborers, and fishers, I feel an undeniable physiological correspondence come over me like waves. The repetitive motion and malleable purpose is as much a part of me now as it was then, despite the difference. When working labor poetics, eco-ethos is a hard fact for me – encoded.


We are made of what we do and perceive through. The encoding happens early on. In my youth, I worked thread, clay, and other materials and played all manner of sports, during those days. Patterns and strategies still interest, intrigue and compel me and this intuit has been a part of my family for generations, I am told. Our making things and movement in the world is long, and our way of being is generously gifted by innate rhythms for movement, work; for living as well. And all of this is the makings of our writing today, just as the gist of our beginnings is underneath the surface supporting our complexities and thought. The Woman in the Sky falls, the spider carries her bowl across the waters, and the dog takes off for the sky from the mountains of our origins over and over each generation in our rekindling of its tales. This, like our surroundings are of the structure we come in with and kindle.


Poetic structure and encoding can intentionally correlate landscape and culture succinctly and successfully. The mathematics of culture heightens a viability of metered poetic attempt just as the cultural sensibility of silence and space fix line and language in nuance specific to speaker. Engaging culture in verse is, perhaps, the adherence to classic poetics in the Occidental Hemisphere, in retaining traditional structures permeating written language on stone, bark, clay and other materials traditionally presented by scribes. The languages themselves borne of landscape and environment, thus the conceptual classic verse is what oratory and memory called to make permanent, or ephemeral but long lasting.


When locating stone tablets with crane cartouches, wholly confounded archeologists believed them bird symbols but little understood the complexity of hieroglyphics they were faced with. The cranes on the flyways had left their impressions for forty-five to sixty million years, gathering annually in huge councils and demonstrating the essences of what we now believe principles as admired as monogamy/loyalty, consensus, choice, proof of ability, longevity, empathy, protectiveness, courage, caring for others, and prowess in purposeful dancing ­– all of which has been emulated for eons by Native communities along the flyways, and continues to be. Languages developed and incorporated that which the community admired and emulated and insomuch attention to the species brought clear orchestration to the actuality of written languages that existed in the Americas long before the appearance of the European intrusion. Enigmatical as they are to people outside the culture, within the culture, depending on nation of people, they may be delivered or created only by a certain clan or order, just as written languages in other cultures around the world, including Ireland whereas the language was carried in a crane skin bag (transformed from a woman). As they, too, followed the appearances of other life forms and incorporated those teachings within the language presentation, poetic. in a classic sense.


Some Indigenous languages name a central bird, like the Carolina Parakeet, so central to culture that the color yellow breaks down to like the parakeet, so the bird presents prior to the actual color in thought, concept. This bird represented the sun and a variety of principle including empathy. In fact the bird was so utterly empathetic that mortally pricked and staked out to slow death, by an intruder intending to cripple Indigenous culture by extermination of an icon, would, in its mercy plea, summon thousands of like birds to wit the offender would simply slaughter the lot of them, until there were no more. The viability of its impression now lives only in language, and memory. But isn’t that what makes poetry necessary in many cultures, memory? The need to learn, to store knowledge is so inherent to storying culture and restorying culture that one populates the other as if in some gigantic sphere of knowledge where we intersect intricately with a bit of it on a need to know basis throughout life, eventually learning more of the whole before we transition on, and insomuch a poetic develops to exchange information and to marvel at both the beauty and horrendous in life and in cultural sway thereof.


In building mounds, pyramids, and other earthworks, geometry and architecture are as present in Indigenous mathematics as is calculating the cosmologic occurrences they oftentimes measure precisely; be it the eighteen point six year Major Lunar Standstill, or the three hundred sixty-five and quarter days of earth’s orbit, or the twenty-nine and a half orbit of the moon around the earth, the solstices, equinoxes, or any other stellar measure one might calculate. All of which have physical representations in Indigenous America, and in the language of culture. So, too, in the poetic meter.


The sense of sacred numbers comes from many means and measures, and these and other coordinates and equations are manifested in song, in poetic approach to story, or narrative, and in the memorable repetitions in traditional telling and speeches, including that of Deganawida’s epic verse, the Popul Vuh, or any number of such creations. The traditional verse is this, the classic verse.


Contemporary verse is affected by the current culture, just as the historic verse was affected by the pop culture of that day. Insomuch, the structure and application of a poetic is individual to culture, to place within culture, and to a sense of knowledge and intentionality of presenting culture, or any thread thereof, and also has the presence that may or may not incorporate classic verse, or improvisational individual stylistic verse, as any contemporary culture in the world applies, from their own set of knowns, in subtle or overt manner. The choice is the poet’s as an individual and in working with a knowledge set that is inherent to, or learned by, the poet at work.


Imagine a world whereas colonialists had not destroyed the libraries of people they overran. A world where the creatures populating the Woodlands, the American Savannah, the entire Occidental Hemisphere, had not been thoroughly upset and grossly extinct, or nearly so. An amazing thought. Yet, just as the Sandhill crane has returned to 589,000 birds in six decade since reduced intentionally to five breeding pair from possibly millions, the languages are resilient and have the potential to return and in what better form of memorable repeating than in poetry, song and story. The three, in some ways, inextricable in a classic/traditional sense, and in the here and now, a contemporary sense as well.


Yet, there are few, or no, shared tenets in contemporary Native poetry as a field, and there are thousands of cultures that this is employed to term throughout the hemisphere, so obviously naming this is shortsighted and nearly impossible to conceive fully in a simple way. So the categorization set does not fit the actuality in this case and certainly proves that this is not a poetic school by any means. The uniting factor is only that the poetry is created by people who have origins from within this hemisphere, and its surrounding island nations, and that they are jointly affected wholly by colonization in a truly current sense and that language, knowledge, and freedom to be viable culturally is impeded by the colonial action and deftly severed with intentional attempt of extinction of language and iconic presence in nature, in landscape, diaspora by forced removals and erasures of architecture of cities, towns, and material cultures in order to continue the assimilation and extinction necessary to continue the colonization despite the fact it has not merited a healthy planet and in fact has surely endangered all living things in its midst.


So the shared truth is the amalgamation of tens of thousands of generations’ knowledge being uprooted, displaced, denied, and nearly destroyed by the invasion and the act of writing poetry, or employing any sense of the classic consciousness in verse, is a literary activism and is a sure manifestation of vital presence and resilience while curating a contemporary voice representational of witness, of creativity, celebratory, or elegiac, and causes reclamation, assertion, continuance, and livelihood in the making of poetry in embracing the love of language and form.


And this is potentially true whether the poet Indigenizes the dominant language the culture was pressed to pursue, juxtaposes traditional language, culturally conceptual thinking, within the verse as a matter of fact, or writes in the traditional language of her heritage. Combine this with a sense of repetition and rhythmic structures that propel the verse, in a contemporary or traditional sense, and you have the makings of incantatory and/or lyric poetry, quite close to some traditional works. Add in the complexities of witness, image, and deep seeded conceptual thought and you have all of the intricacies of intellectual experimental work. Couple this with a willingness to restore balance, or any other traditional principle, and more remarkable potential appears.


Though the poetic is not necessarily a shared thing and is often contrary to any notion at all of shared artistic sway, the basis of culture, and past cultural impact, is inherent to some degree, in the blood and cultural characteristic of genetic make-up, and the dynamics of contemporary culture call poets to reason through a deeper dynamic, that of humanity, or maybe moreover that of life on the shared planet and a cultural duty to the protection and preservation of life of the planet and its viability beyo


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