Artificial Intelligence

The Role of Poets Today

It is the time of the year when the sun is low on the horizon and must come through a lot of air to get here at 50 degrees North. At the end of the day, when the sun is at its lowest, it shows in the snow, which is pink with it.

But look. There’s more to the story. Look at those specks of red lichen glowing in the right bottom quadrant of the image. The light is lifting it out of the rock and our eyes, which are specialized to pick out colour and difference, select it and send it as a message to the brain, which then directs the eyes to look more closely.  And it’s not just the lichen. The sumac and us are doing the same dance.

And the snow buckwheat.

The camera certainly can’t keep up. If we want texture in the snow, the rock and lichen are lost in darkness; if we want colour in the rock, the snow disappears in light. Our eyes do not make that mistake. You could say that they are more sensitive than the camera. You could also say that they are not measuring averages but each point on its own.

Have you found the red in that image yet? The pink tinge to the green lichen? No? Yes? Maybe? Then let’s start with the obvious, the siya?, whose winter branches are redder than they are at any other time of the year…

…and the same colour as their summer juice. An accident? Hardly. The communication is for us. Of course we see it. It’s important that we see the summer crop in winter.

In other words, the cycle eye>brain>eye>brain does not illustrate the full story here. It’s more like eye>siya?>eye>brain>eye>siya?>eye>brain. In other words, the siya? is part of our visual sense. Plus the tongue is in there, too. But note how white her limbs are in summer. There’s more going on here yet. Note how in the spring, the pink colours have already started to fade with the rising spectrum of the light, even in the afternoon sun.

In other words, the cycle is something like sun>eye>siya?>eye>brain>eye>sun>siya?>sun>eye>brain. Or something like that. Plus the tongue, tasting, and the ear, hearing. All fun aside, I think you get the point: both sun and siya? are part of our visual sense, which is not separate from the tongue and the ear. What’s more, the name of this berry bush, siya?, is the sound the berries…

… make when you pick them. So, that means that touch is also part of sight, and the berry speaks its name to your fingers, which the ears hear. These are poetic effects, and the people most skilled at reading them are Indigenous gatherers and poets. Poetry, after all, is a form of speech in which the speech is the body, and senses, speech and the form and bodily rhythms and breath of that speech all share meaning, and come together to form it.  So, what does poetry make of this speech with the world? Well, red sunsets are well known, such as this one on Silver Star Mountain…

…but red is not the only colour the spectrum of the falling sun reveals in winter.

That’s right, green. It even shines in the pink light that is washed out in falling snow and fog, as in the sagebrush below a few weeks back…

Even such pale colours gain an intensity from this seasonal light. In one plant, this ubiquitous big sage, both the green (above) of the leaves and the red of the seed stalks (below) appear simultaneously.

As they do in the moss and lichens below. We are not just looking at light here but at sorted light, in which pattern reveals colour as much as anything else. The sorting is the mind. You don’t have to mathematically analyze the distances between colour patterns, or the particular shades of pink, green, and red here to know the pattern deeply. You already know it. What analysis does is translate it into a map for the mind, one that excludes the body.

In fact, science is quite clear on this. It is designed to disregard sensory input in order to reveal underlying patterns, but that might just be overly clever, as poetry has already done that. I am reminded of what my cousin, a historian, told me the first time I stepped into the Freiburg Cathedral. I asked him what the symbolism there meant. “Don’t ask me,” he said. “I’m a historian. You’re a poet. You already know.” It was wise. And right. I looked up, and I did. The lesson that the skill of reading poetry can reveal here on Turtle Mountain today is perhaps something as simple as the relationship between form and sight, that sight is a form of touch, and one not separated from other forms of touch. The slow watering of this lichen, here in its season of growth, by slowly-receding snow under the effect of the low angles of the sun, and the radiant communication between warming stone, lichen, and the light-concentrating lenses of warming and re-freezing snow is scarcely different from the patterns that make sight. 

And scarcely different from the recognition of fruitfulness in the red berries of the rowan below.

And scarcely different from the work that the glaciers did to the land, or are still doing, such as here at Svinajökull in South Iceland. Note that the eye and the sun and angles of light are involved here as well, in relationship with darkness and edges, and that, just like in every example above, what is being created is a body in space: yours.

The prophets of old read these relationships. Some psychics still can. Hunters as well. Some poets. These are not simple relationships. The young siya? grove below extends all the relationships I showed you above and blends them not only with the power of the glacier but with the energy of grass as well.

It can’t be stressed too strongly that these are seasonal affects, and change day by day as the light changes, in the same way that the melting snow on red volcanic rock maintains the life upon the rock where otherwise it could not be.

This is the season of red and green light, but it is played out on a watery planet, and if you haven’t noticed already, there are other colours at play here, such as blue:

(A peek under the ice in an Icelandic stream in spring time.)

…and yellow:

Note how the yellow in the lichen above indicates zones of dryness. Before you think that this is just a bunch of outdated knowledge from the Middle Ages, consider the bunchgrass below, please:

The yellow of her stalks is melting the snow. In other words, they turn warm and dry in the sun and cut the snow like a knife. The patterns I have showed you above are born from this spectrum, at the same time the green and red are given to us. In other words, yellow is driving sight. That is certainly useful for finding grain, such as the wild rye below, which has leaned over a bank with the weight of snow, in order to seed itself at its base.

It also helps reveal green, by creating contrast.

It does so in preparation for the spring, when the pattern is reversed, such as it is in the sagebrush buttercup below. Note that these flowers are two, even three months early. It is a way of knowing the seasons all at once.

And of finding the old season in the blue gloom of the new one.

And so making the continuity that poets see in everything, and which drives the dividers nuts, because its information is not mappable. No, it’s not, but that’s because it is already coded and already read by the body. What is needed to represent the continuous world is a kind of speech that embodies it, just as every view of it embodies human life. The alternative is to have no human life, only a ghost in a machine, yearning.

In that world (downtown Vernon), every person is interchangeable and thus statistically measured, just as the camera that statistically averaged light and could not see both sides at once. The thing is, humans can. Ask anyone who sits in that chair for a smoke break, or anyone who painted graffiti on those walls, or anyone who painted them over. They know about the power relationships here. The image is beautiful because it is an image of touch: the plaster, the stucco, the paint, the chair seat, and so on, are all moments of touch, and so is the light>eye>mind relationship that reveals them to us, and the colours that reveal their moods and the ironies of their lost seasonal relationships. The image is bittersweet because the colours don’t connect with the earth. What are left are ancestral moods. Ghosts. One cannot walk forever among ghosts, and for that reason the image above shows a world that is unsustainable except by force, and not even then for long. A host of sociological and economic papers and studies will not reveal more than that. At the moment we live in a world that demands that poetry represent these ghost emotional states, but when they weaken and die siya? will still speak to us. But not directly, because poetry reads more levels than that. Consider ripeness, or the full sense of a body that makes a body full: ripeness is not “ready for eating,” no matter what the dictionaries say. Neither is it “mature.” Have a look.

One definition of “ripeness” is “sensuous and full”, as in “ripe lips,” and another “emitting a foul odour,” and another “vulgar.” A better definition would be “full” of “completeness,” or “embodying its full opening before retraction in preparation for another opening.” This wavy-leaved thistle, for instance, will close up, and grow a flower stalk next year, in a two year cycle, before giving this fullness over to seed to open again.

Ripeness is a fullness of rhythm. It is the point where everything is potential.

It doesn’t come in spring. That is only the first hint of potential’s power to open.

It is as present mid-winter as it is at harvest. Look at the eye and the sun finding siya? together on the ridge line above Swan Lake in a late December dusk.

The ripeness of those clouds will pass into the world as the earth moves in relationship to the sun through the months ahead. Poets know this stuff, and, for the most part, as Plato said so long ago, don’t know that they know it. What Plato didn’t understand was that he could just ask. It is what we hold in common that will be what we hold in common in the months and years to come and what we hold separately that will remain separate and ripen within separation. What follows us is not up to chance. It is up to choice, and choice, I hope I have shown, is a physical act. It is sight. It is not the blue hill above that a poet can show you, but the link between vision and speech. Like all good teachers, they bring you to yourself.


2 replies »

  1. Your most profound piece yet, drawing in the whole, embodied. Awe-some summation.

    I like that you don’t identify siya? by its settler name but keep to its indigenous reality. Let people discover it themselves, on the land.


  2. Reblogged this on Penn Kemp and commented:
    Harold Rhenish’s most profound piece yet, drawing in the whole, embodied. Awe-some summation.

    I like that you don’t identify siya? by its settler name but keep to its indigenous reality. Let people discover it themselves, on the land.


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