The past is something we all grapple with. Oftentimes, we want to block it out, to move forward. But from experience we realize that the past breaks down into fragments and “molecules” that have become part of our physical and spiritual make-up. It is something that cannot be erased, despite our efforts to progress and deny it. Usually, the past is painful. Usually, we want nothing to do with it.
Our poetic past, the writers of antiquity, the Middle Ages, the 19th C—all constitute fragments of ourselves as a culture and as individuals. Osip Mandelstam writes that “classical poetry is the poetry of revolution;”
“Poetry is the plow that turns up time so that the deep layers of time, the black soil, appear on top.” “There’s no point inventing one’s own poetics,” he writes in “The Word & Culture.” Maybe the poet must keep remembering and re-inventing, integrating history in our present and future. And, indeed, this has been the journey of some post-modern poetry and art.
Maybe the past can become our friend.