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By J. David Hester Amador

IT HAPPENS to me every month. At a gathering of poets and writers the same experience takes hold of me: There is something sublime suffused throughout this county, a divine force that takes hold of certain people, overwhelms them, breaks open something deep within them that must come out.

The Muse is alive and well in this county.

Ancient texts report a somatic effect that poetry had: the very bodies of ancient audiences were affected, leaving them literally dazed, awestruck, amazed by the brute force of poetry. She was a force so powerful that philosophers beginning with Plato sought to forbid Her presence in their utopias.

In fact, at the very heart of the Western metaphysical divide between sense and reason, body and mind, is a reaction by ancient philosophers to forbid the Muse any legitimacy at all: Her words were “manipulative,” her poems were “manufactured,” (poieisis, which gave us our word for “poem,” is the Greek word for “product,” “something crafted”).

Poetry was termed a “contrivance,” a pejorative term that still resonates in our modern use of the word fiction.

Interesting how long we have suffered from this belief and how little attitudes have changed over time. Here and there we see resistance: Sophists taught us to value probabilities over certainties, mystics gave voice to Her divinity, Romantics helped us to appreciate Her sublime power, the Beatniks howled Her name.

But still, this deep suspicion haunts our culture. Materiality, the philosophical and scientific search for universals, empiricism, and positivism: all feed our belief that if only our rational mind could control and eliminate all the messiness of our words, everything would be all right. And as long as metaphor, irony, ambiguity, and possibility exist, as long as poetry and fiction and art are allowed to thrive, our world will never be set right.

I think the philosophers were right. There is something to be terrified of when you read a poem. But they were completely wrong about the object of that terror.

When we come together, I listen to an old women spin her limericks, a young man slam out his rhythmic chants, a child share her fears, an adult woman weave her tales of love and loss.

And I think, Yes, you logicians, scientists, positivists: Beware. Because it is not “fiction” that poetry creates, but a Truth far beyond your meager ability to comprehend.

Like people.

David Amador is the founder of the (not just) Poetry Slam, which goes down the second Monday of every month at Actors Theatre in Santa Rosa.

From the April 12-18, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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