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Transactions with Beauty.
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- Shawna

 

 

The Unsaid

The Unsaid

I've been thinking rather a lot lately about what goes unsaid, about what we don't or cannot say. Many a novel's plot will hinge on what is unsaid, and in poetry, the unuttered can be deeply felt. And so it is in life, of course. 

I think of how still life paintings work, too. The way one feels what is outside of the frame. There is the quiet of a pitcher, a bowl of fruit, a crust of bread, and then the imagination takes us out of the frame, wondering who placed those objects there, how they came to be. I'm also thinking about that seven day b/w photo challenge that's going around on various social media sites, which states that no words need accompany the photo. Maybe that's the hardest part of the challenge, the not saying. In art (and life), the balance between saying and not saying is really the thing. 

Dana Gioia's poem has been in the back of my mind ever since I read it. 

Unsaid

by Dana Gioia

So much of what we live goes on inside –
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.

winter apples

For artists, poets, novelists, photographers, the unsaid can be a powerful thing. The passage that has been painted over, the deleted paragraph or line, is still felt. 

In her essay from Proofs and Theories, titled "Disruption, Hesitation, Silence," Louise Glück says:

“I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied. There is no moment in which their first home is felt to be the museum. … It seems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries. The problem is to make a whole that does not forfeit this power.”

 

The unsaid holds mysteries, and can hold our innermost truths. The unsaid can be profound. Thomas Merton says, “What matters most is secret, not said. This begins to be the most real and the most certain dimension.” And I think that's why I love this next poem by Denise Levertov. It gets at the secrets that poems hold, without giving anything away. 

The Secret

by Denise Levertov

Two girls discover   
the secret of life   
in a sudden line of   
poetry. 

I who don’t know the   
secret wrote   
the line. They   
told me 

(through a third person)   
they had found it
but not what it was   
not even 

what line it was. No doubt   
by now, more than a week   
later, they have forgotten   
the secret, 

the line, the name of   
the poem. I love them   
for finding what   
I can’t find, 

and for loving me   
for the line I wrote,   
and for forgetting it   
so that 

a thousand times, till death   
finds them, they may   discover it again, in other   
lines 

in other   
happenings. And for   
wanting to know it,   
for 

assuming there is   
such a secret, yes,   
for that   
most of all.

{source}

winter grass

There is the unsaid in art, but what about the unsaid in life? 

Vestibule

by Chase Twichell 

What etiquette holds us back
from more intimate speech,
especially now, at the end of the world?
Can’t we begin a conversation
here in the vestibule,
then gradually move it inside?
What holds us back
from saying things outright?
We’ve killed the earth.
Yet we speak of other things.
Our words should cauterize
all wounds to the truth.
 

{source}

I love the Twichell poem because, still, it preserves the etiquette. There's what we should do, and yet we speak of other things. The poem itself is a vestibule, or could be....the poem is the place where we can say those things we hold back in other spaces. In her Intimate Journal, Nicole Brossard says, “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.” 

And yet in real life, one sometimes wishes to begin a conversation in the vestibule. To say words that staunch wounds. To say healing things, and real things. To open things up. Of course we know what holds us back. That, too, must go unsaid. 

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