Talking With A Poet: Part Three

by Robert Okaji

That it shudders through
and presages an untimely end,

that it transforms the night’s
body and leaves us

breathless and wanting,
petals strewn about,

messenger and message in one,
corporeal hosts entwined,

that it moves, that it blends,
that it withdraws and returns without

remorse, without forethought, that it
increases, expands, subtracts,

renders, imposes and releases
in one quick breath, saying

I cannot feel but I touch,
I cannot feel.

Can the wind be personified? Can it worry over its inability to feel? Yes. How do I know? This poem told me so. Can a person, in a moment of despair, look back on her life and see all the times she imposed her will then fled, wreaked havoc, built destroyed and rebuilt, settled quietly down one evening to mourn decades lost without truly understanding love? Yes. How do I know? This poem told me so.

Think of the first time you discovered a poem that spoke to you. What an experience! To discover emotion between the letters of a single word or absolutely bursting from a stanza; to feel an instant of heartbreak or immeasurable elation, to hold a blade of grass between your fingers held by someone long ago or far way, a person you have not met, will not meet, and yet … the two of you just shared this incredibly intimate moment. Is it possible that, upon discovering this poem and all the magic within, that you have truly met the poet?

Robert Okaji’s chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform, is not a collection from which we can derive the author’s life’s goals. From this book, we cannot surmise whether or not he is fearless, rich or poor, patriotic or religious. Can he paint? I don’t know.

In this book, what we find is Robert Okaji’s depth of acceptance for what cannot be explained, his love of language and his willingness to observe and learn as language does its work.  We see flashes of vulnerability from a distance, an artful distance. There is subtlety, mystery, bright and bold images, blurry colors that might be blurred by hurt or love or boredom, or almost forgotten anger.

Most remarkable about this artful distance is that we can still pick up the timbre of his voice. The wonder in it. The way it can stall in moments of potential doubt, fear, passion, indecision, then swirl and skillfully fall with absolute acceptance, confidence. And even across that distance, something as familiar and humdrum as the wind recounted in that voice can reveal beautiful, terrible secrets — the beautiful, terrible secrets of the readers’ perspective.

What we learn from If Your Matter Could Reform is that Robert Okaji is a poet.

I invite you today to talk with this poet. Ask him about the works displayed on O at the Edges. Ask him about the whispered revelations shared in Window Open, Closed previously recorded and published at Bonnie McClellan’s Weblog. Feel free to share your own insights about poems that have spoken to you, and what discoveries have been made about your own perceptions as a reader.

Writing has happened! The July Week Two prompt has been interpreted by Writers of the FLAME, and now you may read, comment, and vote HERE! Do you have Shane the Flame’s Six, or do you plan to lay down cover for another awesome writer?

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16 Responses to Talking With A Poet: Part Three

  1. t.s.wright says:

    Robert Okaji’s poem you shared above is definitely a favorite of mine. But then the wind is a subject I cannot resist (and I would never refer to it as humdrum, but that’s a lecture for another time).

    I read “Wind” and I’m transported to a damp night – asphalt silvered by rain and a dim street light – the shadows of trees swaying beneath that dark mirror’s surface. With a yearning that I cannot trace or satisfy. It has that evocative element which can put you in a moment, from memory or dream, by the utterance of a single line.

    I’ve stated before that I am not what anyone would call a poetry person. I can’t talk to you with any authority about pacing or distance or forgotten anger. I can’t study it from a scholarly distance. So often when I read one of Robert O’s poems I find myself standing at the beginning of a scene. I want to take the translocation and explore the neighborhood – see if there’s a bigger story for me to unravel.

    To ride on the train traveling through the marrowbone of night…

    To turn my ear to the silence that lines an unfilled grave…

    To find infinity in my closed fist…

    I think it’s the wonder I hear and triggers the wonder in me like the contagion of a yawn.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. robert okaji says:

    There are always bigger stories, even in the smallest of matters. 🙂 Thank you for your kind and astute comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. robert okaji says:

    And Kathy? I can’t paint, although my first summer job was a painting job. After surviving a long, difficult sophomore year in high school, and feeling relieved to have months away from school, I landed a job painting. The high school.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: Talking with a Poet: Part 3, on Brigit’s Flame | O at the Edges

  5. Ron says:

    As it happens, Bob will be at our house tomorrow where we will meet for the second time and will watch him take notes feverishly as he sees some REAL winds here in Alvarado, Texas. Stand by as Bob is compelled to revise “Winds” whether he wanted to or not!

    Ron — HaikuOdyssey

    P. S. Exquisite poem, Bob!!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. First, this is a lovely review; I particularly enjoyed the discussions of “artful distance” and blurs of focus.
    I’ve often wondered with music, as with its companion art form, poetry, how the artist orders his/her work within a volume or chapbook, so I’ll just ask since I don’t recall having read the background for this poem. Bob, how did you choose “Wind” as the first poem in If Your Matter Could Reform? Was it in any way a balance, or counterpoint, to the conclusive poem, “Earth’s Damp Mound”? [I also find it fascinating, Bob, how you’ve incorporated all the four elements into this poetry chapbook. Wind and fire seem to be the strongest here, however, with earth coming in “third place,” so to speak.]
    Finally, I will also relate something about one of the poems in IYMCR. Reading Bob’s poetry (online and the chapbook) has made me more comfortable with the ‘not knowing’ of things. Normally, I’m the ferreting, researching, “knowing” kind of person, but, even though I’ve read IYMCR quite a few times now, I’ve not researched the unknown terms. Until just a few minutes ago. I will, however, tell you how “umeboshi” felt to me all this time, in reading the poem, perhaps due to the influence of the titular word “Self-portrait.” All this time, I thought umeboshi was a style of painting (with the poem being sort of a full-tilt sensory experience of taste, sight, and more). The Japanese word, which I’m likely mispronouncing in my mind, conveys to me a lushness, a fullness, a water aspect, and, so, I always heard and saw it as a style or method of watercolor painting. Go figure! With poetry such as this, it seems to me that it’s okay to be factually “wrong” now and again, in lieu of feeling the experience of interacting with the words and the white spaces in real time. That has been freeing to me, with your poetry, Bob. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • robert okaji says:

      Thanks for asking, Leigh. I knew that “Earth’s Damp Mound” would anchor the book, and wanted to start with something less weighty, perhaps a little less demanding. A poem about the insubstantial seemed appropriate, and “Wind” won out. So yes, there was a conscious effort to balance the beginning and end. The manuscript initially contained 26 poems, but I cut ten – the book seemed a tad unwieldy at that size, and some of the poems didn’t mesh as well as I’d hoped. I like what you found in “Self-Portrait with Umeboshi” – pronounced oo-may-boe-shee – as I believe that what readers find is often more interesting than what the writer intended, in this case, comparing myself to a shriveled, red, pickled, tart plum (which just made my mouth water) staring at me from a jar. Mmm. Now I want to cook some rice.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Ron says:

    I believe the word “passing” may have some hidden meaning, but what do I know? I also believe Zagnut is the best candy bar ever made!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Weekend Wrap-Up | Brigit's Flame Writing Community

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