Thursday, August 2, 2012

Un Terrible Boxeur: Language and Poetry and Violence and Brutality

Un Terrible Boxeur, Guillaume Apollinaire, 1914.

"Terrible boxeur boxant avec ses souvenirs et ses mille desirs."
“Terrible boxer boxing with his memories and his thousand desires.”

"On Fencing," by Sarah Blake.
Some parts of the body are protected. Women wear a chest plate, made of plastic, and shaped like breasts, as if women wear perky Victoria's Secret bras while they fence, instead of sports bras that flatten them. Even in the Olympics you can see these rounded cups through the lame and jacket. 
As a poet, sometimes I feel this way, that I've geared up like a poet, but that my lines about motherhood, about sex, my method of engagement, my very words, have flagged me as a woman poet, and then I'm standing there with plastic breasts that are the same size and shape as every other woman poet. 
But if our breasts matter at all, our breasts are different.

Poetry is dangerous. It can be. We don't typically use the word danger. We use words like risks and stakes. The risks of the poet and the stakes of the poem. But danger is implicit, sometimes explicit. 
I've always valued the danger in poetry. I might value it above all else. Be it a weakness or a strength, it is a symptom of my fighting heart which led me to fencing in the first place.

"On (Poetry and) Boxing," by Jennifer L. Grotz.

But boxing’s taxing and strengthening of the imagination as a faculty to see more fully and accurately is what I’m more intrigued with. Although the truth is, we can use the imaginative mind — and our poetry — in either way or valence. That is, we can use it to try to understand and “see better” or we can use the mind to block it out and to run a kind of interference, something writers call “fancy” and therapists call “denial” and Wallace Stevens called “a violence from within that protects us from a violence without,” that is, “something that presses back against the pressure of reality.” Keats thought about this question in terms of what he coined one’s “negative capability,” that is, “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” That’s what I aim for when I’m watching and scoring a boxing match, to be capable of being present and cognizant of the uncertainty of two boxers at work, emancipated from what Liebling called the “oily-voiced announcers’” or any predetermined narratives generated by “my memories and my thousand desires.”
Which brings me to the second thing that boxing has taught me as a poet, which is to acknowledge and honor what I often refer to as duality, but is more accurately understood in this context as drama. “Every talent must unfold itself in fighting, Oates writes, quoting Nietzsche. ‘That which is creative must create itself,” I say, quoting Keats.
“Because a boxing match is a story without words, this doesn’t mean that it has no text or no language, that it is somehow “brute,” “primitive,” “inarticulate,” only that the text is improvised in action,” clarifies Oates. “The language [is] a dialogue between the boxers of the most refined sort…” 

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