THE POWER OF POETRY

POWER OF POETRY #83: KARI FLICKINGER

Poetry has destroyed my life. But I keep coming back to it like an attic-wife.

Poetry has turned me into a piece of broken technology, searching the horizon for symbols. It has estranged me from everyone I once loved, from every notion I ever thought to belong to.

Poetry is Boreas waving his beautiful icy fingers and whispering, ‘come darling’. There is no home as warm or expansive as poetry. There is no love as deep or as defining as Poetry. You follow Poetry into a telephone box, but time widens. The parameters of understanding expand, and sure, sometimes you face certain death, but you keep doing Poetry because it is the most concise religion you have found.

My story starts where all stories start, I began writing when I was a child. I thunked around with big huge books everywhere I went. And I was a damn weird kid. A serious, chunky thing. My parents must have panicked at the thought of my outgrowing the fishbowl of our small-town. I think they still do. But poetry helped me make sense of my environment, of how it could expand beyond the relational atmosphere of a confined space. Placerville was every town. My pines were all pines. My dog-eared books were another’s magazine or fall from a swing. My prayers were to the gods of poetry, and that was the same god my mother prayed to in the night. Supplication was no less and no more. We take in the same media. We read the same articles. We go similar places. We’re educated in insular systems that teach the same information. The writing community, hell, beyond that—humanity is a huge echo-chamber. And maybe the only way to break out from that echo-chamber is to write in a little shack in the woods. But isolation causes unexpected results in the humanity of a person, too.

Poetry has affected my mental health. I shared a lot of this in a drunken podcast you can find on my Soundcloud, but as my mental health began to degrade, these small colliding events and the act of symbol-recognition began to set off larger threats in my mind and I stopped letting anyone see most of my work. I spliced myself into two people to write: malicious editor and unhinged writer. I suppose we all do this to some degree. I put a lot of work away when I find it full of grasping insincerity—usually because I am working toward the real core of the piece. I lack clarity most often. But maybe, this is why time-travel is a necessity. It pulls meaning from the trauma of the increasingly-spliced mind.
The technology of poetry is a complex animal. I studied poetry at UC Berkeley and I wrote about how trauma can affect the comprehension of time. I’ll never forget listening to the helicopters roam above the campus while the disparate group of undergrads in my evening lyric poetry class sat with the idea of time travel belonging to the act of poetry. In one respect, we were with Milton, but concurrently we were being assailed by police, rioters, angry blonde crackpots, and the twitchy twitter-finger of an orange madman. (The hilarity of heaven and hell clashing.) The sudden quiet of our voices. The markings in our notebooks. The whirring and shouting echoing all around us.

Anyway, (here’s Wonderwall.) I’ve collected a few literary examples below. (Keeping in mind this isn’t an academic creature I’m building here, I’m going to give spare examples, and let you seek the source material for more. You can find me on Twitter to discuss if you so choose. I do not promise that I will be the most instructive source, but I can be open and willing if treated with care.)

In Milton’s “Lycidas” the poem is aware of outliving itself in the lines “Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more/ For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead/ Sunk though he be beneath the wat’ry floor;/ So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed”. Here, the character comes unstuck from the tale and the form addresses not only the poet, but also the reader. I think one professor put it as, “double-no-more-ness”. The sun is gone but it returns. The physical self may move through the confines of death by sharing language. The afterlife of form means the poem, the poet, the reader, each are surviving our own demise and transmitting the lesson through the careful application of our language. (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44733/lycidas)

Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” does this, too (though, a thoroughly problematic poem). “Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run.” “Thus” signals a definitive point is forthcoming, and the “sun” signals the uncreated creation, or a failure in the creation machine. The imperative “stand still” demands the ceasing of time. However, each signifier is turned with the last phrase “yet” (O, but there’s more!) we (the creators / the lovers / the poet / the reader) will make him (the sun / the son / the creation / the poem / the technology of time travel) run (infinite action.) (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44688/to-his-coy-mistress)

Even one of my own recent poems does this:

“The bold whim of the bumble
bee or the silent skulking
dandelion—well

but toothed—are inconsequential
as they

tear themselves apart or
are rended—drunk on sheaves
of lettered phrases

at the plundered well—the space between
open eyes—that

overall scheme
hardly matters as we thread
through countryside.

Our hands so soft in their holding.

The world so big and known.”
(https://ninemusespoetry.com/2019/06/15/one-poem-by-kari-a-flickinger/)

And I guess a solution to the loss-of-self through the mechanism of time-travel can be found here. Though our language can be derivative, or may outlive us, all we can do is remain aware of this and continue to love in the ways we best know how. [“All you need is glove” (There’s some Yellow Submarine shit for you).] The point? It’s okay if you don’t like what I’ve said here because I’ve got Botanical Gin and an amazing cat rubbing against my chair who I’m going to go sing to when I’m finished writing. I sometimes come off as a little condescending; but know I am in constant awe of the interconnectedness of this world. The synchronization of our thoughts is so fascinating. How few lessons there are. How little we need to know to survive, then die, then survive again is, I think, due to poetry. I’m like a poetic Dr. Manhattan sometimes and I could see how that’s pretty off-putting, personality-wise.

Make meaning. Or don’t and say you did. We can construct our worlds within the concurrent structure of previous notions, times, thoughts. We are transmitting more of this information through our application of language. We balance all of time through our words. And how brilliant is this? Want to go somewhere? Go, poet!


Kari A. Flickinger is a poet and freelance editor living in the San Francisco Bay area. Her poems have been nominated for Best of the Net, and the Rhysling Award. She is a reader for Palette Poetry, and a regular contributor to Headline Poetry and Press. She is also an alumna of UC Berkeley. When she is not writing, she can be found playing her Gibson Hummingbird, and singing to her unreasonably large Highlander cat, Bear. Find her: kariflickinger.com @kariflickinger

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