In poetry workshop today, Juan Felipe mentioned a mediation podcast about the trunk and the branches. (I think it’s this one.) He said, the trunk is, of course, the body of the tree, and the branches are out there, but still part of the tree. In poetry terms, the trunk is the soul, the deepsong (I think of duende) of the poem. The branches are the decoration, or the experimentation, the tools in which we poets use to play. He suggested we ask ourselves after we write poems, “Is the trunk speaking? Or the branches?” I think these are essential questions to ask. As poets and artists, of course, we are responsible for craft but we must access the trunk that lends gravity to the work. The trunk should speak to the forms we use. I’m striving for balance in my work, though, this week, I feel like I’ve been writing a lot from the trunk, in both poetry and non-fiction. Part of this comes from the fuel I mentioned in my last post. I love playing with form and being meticulous with the words on the page, but I’m realizing now that living in the branches means ignoring the trunk, the deeper stuff. My first inclination as a writer is to preoccupy myself with the conceit of a poem, rather than what’s fueling it. I believe listening has a large part to do with accessing the trunk.
Yusef Komunyakaa talks a bit about this in a video interview by Sampsonia Way Magazine, which is on the Rattapallax website. He says, “Listening is the most important thing in creative arts and life… In a highly technological society, instruments are there to steal what we call bits of information. But it isn’t knowledge before us… Any interesting, complex dialogue comes out of silence and listening. I listen for the music, as opposed to the ideas. The ideas are there because language is really a composite of symbols that which come from the body as opposed to that abstract vental space.”
I thought that this quote relates to the trunk and the branches. Komunyakaa says, “Come to a piece not to perfect a voice, but to discover a voice. Many people have lots of things to write about and they don’t. They have silenced themselves through programmed experimentation to seem heady. Only a few people are brave enough to say what has informed their psyche.”