Lyrics to a Concept Album with No Music

1.
And when there’s a path you follow it.
And when there’s a question you ask it.
And when you need to stand and yell at someone
you do it.

Be the strength that everyone knows you have.

And when you need to dance you ask whomever’s around,

extend the hand and turn and take a bow,

demure and daring, your face the expression of all
that’s in your heart
and radiates out
across the void
between your face and the face of your chosen star.

Twinkle at them

messages of

joys
to be shared

if only
a person’s
to dare.

2.
A stone and plaster circle
mud caked on your jeans,
extended and extended like a ripple from your knee,
the walls I want to build.

The walls I want to build
not to lock behind the scenes
reveal the ones who come upon my baby ‘fore she screams;
an empty field defended.

An empty field defended
and walls that can’t be hopped
prepare yourself to treat yourself and tell them when to stop;
stand your ground,

persisting and resisting,
stand your ground.

3.
But place many gates in your walls, my love
and invite the others in.
Be welcoming and exciting.
And take the pleasures of a host.

See the moment,
eat the moment,
each and every moment, for what it can
and what it can’t
be:

the best-of-all that’s possible,
and if not that, then
an improvement,

just an improvement,

an extension of yourself
that stretches way beyond the walls
and comes upon a valley
where the river lies
open to us all
to swim and take a drink
and if not that,
then
what’s an improvement?

4.
Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
make your music
make your music
make your music
start

Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
make your music
make your music
make your music
start

Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
make your music
make your music
make your music
start

Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around.
Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
Remember through it’s only through
Remember through it’s only through
Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
and make your music
make your music
make your music
start.

5.
Can you be kind?
Can you realize?
That not all of them
need to be let in.

Stretch beyond yourself;
Exit through your walls
and sometimes
return to me when you’re ready.

You are safe
to exceed
because I am always
already here,
ready to defend,
ready to defend,
whenever you need me.

But keep,
I shall not do,
nor would you want me to.

The path
always leads
away out there,
and what we’ve said,
what we’ve agreed to,
is that there’s this,
the thing to do,
when there’s a path,
you damn well follow it,
that’s what you do,
you damn well follow it.

The Poetic Un-Filter

I’m teaching an Introduction to Creative Writing class at Green Mountain College this semester. We just moved into our unit on poetry, and a couple of days ago, during the opening lecture, I was talking to the students about the difference between prose and poetry. I quoted George Santayana, who wrote, “Poetry breaks up the trite concepts designated by current words into the sensuous qualities out of which those conceptions were originally put together.”

This morning, I was reading an article in The Atlantic about Douglas Hofstadter, a thought-leader in the development of artificial intelligence. Hofstadter argues that the core of human intelligence is to “understand the fluid nature of mental categories.”

“Cognition is recognition,” he likes to say. He describes “seeing as” as the essential cognitive act: you see some lines as “an A,” you see a hunk of wood as “a table”…and a young man’s style as “hipsterish” and on and on ceaselessly throughout your day. That’s what it means to understand…“At every moment,” Hofstadter writes, “we are simultaneously faced with an indefinite number of overlapping and intermingling situations.” It is our job, as organisms that want to live, to make sense of that chaos. We do it by having the right concepts come to mind. This happens automatically, all the time.

Now, the question is, how does Santayana’s quote belong with Hofstadter’s theory of cognition?

Both Santayana and Hofstadter agree that the process of cognition is based on recognition. We look at the explosions of colors and lines that are the given world and our mind pairs those sensations with “the right concepts” — that’s how we know a table is a table and not a rhinoceros.

But Santayana is saying that the poet is gifted with the ability to retain the original sensations, the explosions of colors and lines before “the right concepts” (or as Santayana says, the “trite concepts”) force those sensations into a specific category, into a specific box.

It is the the poet who connects us to the unfiltered sensations of the world and uncategorized emotions of the soul. As poets, it is our job to grab hold of those sensations before they can be boxed up into the prepackaged concepts constructed by our cultures, to save them from the inevitable loss that comes from being stuffed into a box.