h.b.irwin

Artist’s Statement

You came in. You learned how to talk it. You learned what made table from chair from floor; what was your hand and what was not you at all. Words are weightless, from one perspective, the physical perspective. They don’t have a physical place. They are not objects so much as they are mediators. They stream between physical objects and your metaphysical mind, conducting input into a code. A language, a language. Shorthand for existing.
Words are weightless, from one perspective. They can easily be arranged and rearranged. You can put a bird inside a hand inside a heart. You can take the way you know the world, your strange scribbled out existence, and pull it apart verb by noun. You can tear at the fabric of reality; you can loosen threads and reassemble them to create a new reality. You can write a poem.
You can take the things your mother says to you. You can put them beside the newspaper. You can start to understand all the power and lies tied up in both. You can take the flies in your kitchen, make them into your lover, tell them you love them, then discover that love doesn’t mean anything if you can say it to both your mother and your flies.
Our existence is made up of perception. Everything we know about being anything at all comes in through our faces and hands. Language catches all of this perception and pans through it, looking for gold, for anything useful. What a poem is is a different pan, differently sized holes, a new idea of gold.
Perception is made up of our world. That’s all we know for sure. Some figure there’s a thick layer of dust. We watch it move to make volcanoes and fire and algae seem to be what our mouths have moved them to be. We watch it scramble into history, which does not breach, but expands down absurd yet meaning-pregnable paths. This dust, though, is growing thinner by the year—we hope.
The dust speaks. It is didactic. It is smarter than you. It makes sense even when its argument is paradoxical. The dust is credible. It credits itself. It surrounds you. It’s pretty but it’s all you can see. It is the most common illusion: verbal. Weightless shapeless words not confined by time or space—they roam more free and occupy more impossibilities than any other entity could lay a finger on.
Poetry is not an organism. It does not experience the world. It does not hurt and learn from pain. It does not equal any and all other human’s experiences. But you do. It feels good to write it out.
The Torah is poetry; the gospels of Christ are poetry; the epics of Homer, the haunting brilliance of Plath, the joy of Rumi, the ecstasy of St. Teresa, the sutras of Patanjali, the New York in Berrigan, the knots in Blake, the earnestness in all—poetry.
Yet words are hell, from one perspective, dividing the goats from the sheep, the ghosts from the sheets. Heaven is ineffable. But I’ve never been ineffable as all that. Never been a printing press. Never survived one hundred years if not one thousand and some. But I’ve touched as many grass stalks as anybody, got a lot of books, only lived in two cities. Never been held up. Never given birth. If you have, please write. I’m in hell too and I’m interested even if there is silent perfection somewhere off in the distance. I want your skepticism, your doubt. I need your noise, your resistance.
Poetry is agency. It is reaching into the dust, marking fingerprints and swear words once you’re brave enough, love notes once you’ve given yourself up enough. It is an act of liberation, a defiance of information communication purpose-defined existence that only finds itself in the no-place we go in our no-talk thoughts.
Poetry is the habit. You live in and live your life back through it— the reoccurring dream; chain-smoking in the basement; the over and over again of the obsessive mind turning over verb & noun, converting scene into some semiotic code.
Poetry is a habit. In words, like holy cloaks, I’ll wrap myself over, “Like coarsest clothes against the cold:/ But that large grief which these enfold/ Is given in outline and no more.” Still, we robe ourselves in the poem to give off no expression but that ordered one, the small expression of the deep self.

What a poem is is rearranging the furniture. The things you see and hear and taste and touch and smell will all have to find new places to sit. They may have to sit closer than is comfortable. They may have to speak to one another. You might over hear it. You might write another poem.
You came in. You learned to talk it. These are not your laws, these are not your rules. A poem is a new word, longer but also weightless. There are some physical objects and events for which there is no stream to relate it back. There are some things that have not been called things yet. A poet is a botanist in a rainforest, exploring and naming her discoveries, etching out what has not yet been verbal.
A language, a language. Shorthand for existing. If this is true, then a poem is shorthand for wondering, for seeing how strange it is to be anything at all.

II.

I’m not sure Jesus would have made much of a writer. Immaculate conceptions don’t do much for poems. You really need to be born out of fucking to know to keep words like Love and Truth as far away from each other as possible.

Then one day all the messes germinate in a womb, and you feel the start. Your own angry hand presses out your own stomach! Instinct and apathy contracts your body, but you must resist the urge to sling it out. You must run your fingers over the articles, let your ears pick at the rhythm, taste the meaning of memory. Then, at the peak of discomfort and incoherence, the words come screaming out.

And it’s only because you know that nobody loves anybody that makes it alright to say.

So what I’ve been trying to tell everybody is that I’m afraid, and everyone’s afraid, and everyone knows it. That we don’t have to be afraid anymore.

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