Head or heart. Out of the two, which is truer? How can these voices harmonize? My father told me recently that he could sense a tussle between the two in my writing and we explored this a little in a helpful way. The poetic can hold the philosophical, but not the other way round, he said. And through that conversation, I am suddenly energized again. It reminds me that all of this writing comes out of partnership, friendship really between each other. Alone, detached, there is nothing to write about.
I’d like to get a feeling for the difference between the poetic and philosophical voices. I consider myself neither a poet nor a philosopher, lacking any formal background in either area. This is difficult for me to confidently put words to, but for now, I am tempted to say that poetry comes directly out of life itself; or, that its roots are buried in the soil of life. Perhaps because of this, poetry can have a ring of truth about it that a piece of philosophical writing may lack. To flip the comparison, a piece of philosophy may have a ring of authority about it but lack that the poem’s truth.
Though a philosophical approach may appear more direct and have greater surgical clarity of what is, it seems that is can still fail to hold that quality of truth that a poem can capture. In a sense, as truth can be absolutely anything at any moment, the poem’s authenticity comes from being in tune and available for life’s moments, from its spontaneity as compared to the asynchronous, premeditated nature of philosophical dissection of life.
Another element of this comparison is the question of vanity and arrogance, as there is an undeniable, inconvenient quality in philosophical writing which seems unavoidably “knowing”. Without that element of “submission” to things as they are, that element of being subdued by reality itself within the poem, the philosophical voice alone literally fails to speak to the hearts of its audience. There is the scent of falsity and impossible knowing. Surely what is not available to all, is necessarily false and divisive.
To put it simply, the poem comes at us like a bull, directly out of the moment…there can be no knowing what it will be or mean. Its power lies in an unflinching “closeness” with life itself. In comparison, the philosophical voice can sound old, coldly abstracted and overly considered to the point of being meaningless. The poem, free from the demands of any greater intellectual paradigm, is free to be a self-standing handful of truth, packing a punch of meaningfulness without the dead weight of meaning.
This is not to devalue the philosophical voice but to put it in its place, as a servant of the heart. As such, it can be imbued with a fiery honesty and sharpness that can cut right through obscuring conceptual structures, constantly consuming itself from within. We return to a place of inner poverty and momentary availability, ready for life’s next incarnation of “now” and the heart’s response.