Many things are more effectively communicated in an artistic context than in real-time dialogue. This is often the case with content fueled by anger or wounding. Art creates a parameter, enabling a reader to experience or witness content within a protected framework. It’s much like going to a zoo & viewing a wild animal, knowing that you’re safe as long as it’s behind bars. Art can be that way: you have the opportunity to experience powerful & perhaps lasting evocations while still maintaining a definite separation from the source. But then, sometimes, the wild animal manages to escape. Or perhaps you manage to release it. In either case, it usually doesn’t attack. But you never know: sometimes the claws draw blood, the teeth break flesh. I guess that’s when you get lucky.
everyman is essentially driven by an unresolved experience of lack, & it was important that the integrated images facilitate a visceral read, conjuring rawness, that the voice deliver directly, that a reader be struck both by the invocation of specific vapidity (“giants limping across a yard/ spinning magic tricks in the half-light/ insisting that dreams are stallions you have to ride bareback”) & the implication that some people, including the speaker of the poem, may not experience the universe as a benign host, may in fact experience it as a malevolent adversary. At any rate, “the next confluence of father in flesh & father in sky” is an allusion to the notion that flesh-&-blood men fail but so, perhaps, does the universe, or so it can seem: as the “father in flesh” failed, so often does the “father in sky” fail.
I’ve written poems that laud the presence of men in my life, but everyman speaks to the contrary experience, perhaps critiquing what we’ve come to refer to as the men’s movement: “the nerve to claim me as [their] own.” This cultural phenomenon — men supporting each other, providing witness & initiation, etc. — is extremely valuable, has touched & enriched many lives, including my own, though the rebel impulse, for better or worse, can often surface in outrage and sorrow: Who the fuck are you guys “sporting [your] dull hatchet[s] & broken talking stick[s]”? Also, movements that are essentially important can also occasionally collapse into clichés; groups that seem open, receptive, & almost utopian can form collective expectations, norms, & unspoken rules. This poem, perhaps implicitly, rightly or wrongly, is calling bullshit on that.
In other poems that I’ve written, I’ve noted the healing that can transpire regardless of what traumas have been endured; i.e., the eternality of possibility. everyman, on the other hand, explores the disengagement & lingering terror often instantiated by trauma. My sense, actually, is that healing often renders a trauma more palpable, perhaps because healing frees one to some degree from the trance-grip of particular dynamics or story, initiating one into a transpersonal & yet ultimately more vivid experience. By no longer personally claiming the “tragedy that has no bottom” or having it be foundational to who I might be at any given moment — releasing it or having it somehow, perhaps by grace, removed as a core narrative — I make it, it is made, more profoundly my own.
In many of my recent poems, I’ve experimented with creating different tensions in a poem’s gestalt, & I wanted the elements of everyman to be slightly disparate, like puzzle pieces that fit perfectly after a quick thumb-mash, though I certainly wanted to facilitate an overall sense of natural cohesion as well. everyman probably relies less on the non sequitur & truncated line than some other poems I’ve written, but the process of creating paradoxical unity was much the same: have the poem function like a solar system in which elements orbit systematically, but just barely. Things should hold together but just enough….
I don’t think of a poem as a definitive statement or manifesto; it’s rather an expression of an aspect of the existential whole. & the whole is ultimately paradoxical; for this reason, a poet may & will express things that are seemingly contradictory. A poet tries on different perspectives, is much like an actor in that way, accessing &/or emphasizing different parts of himself or herself in order to conjure a particular world replete with particular details & particular emotional contexts. But again, this isn’t definitive in any autobiographical or philosophic sense. I’m not sold on any concept made or implied in any poem I’ve written; nevertheless, I stand by the poem, & its parts, as a representation of the process that rendered it necessary.
John Amen is the author of four collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer, More of Me Disappears, At the Threshold of Alchemy, and The New Arcana(with Daniel Y. Harris). His work has appeared in numerous journals nationally and internationally and been translated into Spanish, French, Hungarian, Korean, and Hebrew. He founded and continues to edit The Pedestal Magazine (www.thepedestalmagazine.com).