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Greg McVerry

Reflections on Rumi: Is there a Shared Voice in American Poetry

I am reading Rumi's poetry right now. I say reading for I can not truly hear the meaning. Unless of course I find the emptiness

4 min read

I am reading Rumi's poetry right now. I say reading for I can not truly hear the meaning. Unless of course I find the emptiness to not listen.

Until then I do try to find audio versions of poems in Persian to miss meanings in Cadence of quatrains and tone of odes.

Prosody of the voice carried by a 1,000 past tongues.

Alas, I rely on Coleman Banks like everyone else to muck up the meaning for me. Banks notes in his work he does three things: chooses to use the free form popular in American poetry, groups the poems into categories to represent poetry as a medium of mystical imagination, and gives Rumi's poems whimsical titles.

Is There an American Tongue?

The note about Amerivan free form poetry got me thinking. I have been discussing form and poetry with a friend Peter Molnar who said he couldn't realte as well to American free form poetry.

At first I thought is it because there is no American tongue? No song to a history. Sure English is the Lingua Franca here, for a decade or two more, but sonnets, quatrains, and strict form.

Can strict forms of poetry collect meaning while having language broken from history? America is a land of genocide, slavery, opportunity, and a fierce individualsm.

The kinda folks who will say, "Fuck your rules." when it comes to poetry.

Banks says that Rumi writes, "Love is the reality and poetry is the drum"

Free Form Poetry

Take American music, and by default all modern Western music, the  guitar style descends from an instrument, the banjo, from Africa. The 2/4 beat and second lines also stolen imports.

Our drum beats not just to cultural appropriation but to a backbeat of a shared belief in opportunity no matter the odds.

After Whitman and Dickinson American poetry took a turn from English and began a pattern of remix.

Yes much of this reflects appropriation of Indigenoues and Black voices but margainlized communities also found power and opportuntity in drumming love. B. B. King famously noted how to hime the blues aren't sad. He saw nothing but dreams.

Hughes and the Harlem Renaisance, Ezra Pound bringing in Chinenese form and ideals. T.S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein threw out the rules. William Carlos Williams explictly wanted to break from Victorian rules.

This was followed by the beat poets.Them folks crazy, plus the CIA did some weird experiments with psychedelics at the time.

Then America imported British Rock which had appropriated rock and roll into the mercerbeat. Rock, combined with the psychedelic and art movements of San Fransisco became a driver of American Poetry

Then Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo taught us to find imagery in the every day. Merwin brought this to environmentalism.

Today those original drums from Africa returned to the streets through Funk, Reggae, and then Rap and Hip Hop culture. The "dozens" supercharged with assonance and consonance brought in  internal rhymes and playing with sound and meaning.

Rap tells the story of urban decay but from a position of bravado, opportunity, and individualism. It began in the US after Jamaican immigrants copied the Deejay and emcee set up of the reggae sound systems and later concert halls.

Remix as Language

So I guess "remix" best  describes the tongue of American poetry.

You can't hear our voice in sonnets or quatrains for our song does not belong to us.

It belongs to you, was stolen from them, adopted by us, nutured and protected by others, marketed to all, and uniquely American.

Free verse for a freedom loving people in a Nation where many were not free.




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