Adam reaches out his left hand so that he can meet the finger of the right hand of God. Adam, who leans back as if in a Dolce & Gabbana ad, though he’s absolutely naked, absolutely not advertising anything except his own physical perfection, seems a tad blasé about the whole thing. He could take it or not. He’s all body, abs and pects in perfect condition. He’s the alpha male, completely in charge and totally available.
And God reaches out from what appears to be a red cave, an enclosure, in which he’s surrounded by cherubim and seraphim. Unlike Adam, God is eager to make this happen. “Touch me,” he could be calling out. This is Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, of course. I’ve stood before it several times and I’ve seen photographs of it many, many times. You have, too, I’m sure.
Here’s the thing: the shape of that red enclosure? It’s the outline of the human brain.
When we’re born we have about 100 billion brain cells. A typical cell is capable of about 1000 connections. Right now, as you’re reading this, your brain could make a lot of connections: 1 to the 76th power of connections, that is a 1 with 76 zeros behind it!
Some of these cells bring in information from the outer world. The windshield is covered in frost, the cat peeks out from the pile of gold and brown leaves, my left big toe rubs against this shoe. And other cells send information into the outer world. Scrape with your right hand, call the cat, move your foot.
Poetry grows from the spark created when the finger of the brain touches the finger of the body.
Theodore Roethke, in his book On Poetry & Craft, tells about how the poet Carolyn Kizer noticed that the poet Louise Bogan starts many poems with a prepositional phrase. Kizer says about these prepositional openings:“You’re plunged into the middle of the poem.”
“At night the moon shakes the bright dice of the water,” begins Bogan’s poem “Elders.” “In fear of the rich mouth / I kissed the thin,” begins “The Frightened Man.”
Prepositional phrases position us in the world. “At night . . .” They clarify relationships. “Beside the pile of leaves . . .” And they answer questions. “In fear . . .”
With a few swift words, we’re plunged into the world of the poem.
To plunge “to enter suddenly into something which surrounds one completely” that is, the poem.
I don’t want to argue here in favor of prepositions. Rather I’m in favor of plunging. Too often, young writers fail to plunge, fail to enter suddenly into the world that is their poem. Instead they warm up to the subject, saunter over to it, holding the reader by the hand, easing toward the matter.
To plunge once meant “to bring or pump up by plunging.” A transitive verb in this usage, plunging is to act upon something else. The OED, from which I’m quoting here, gives us George Turberville, from his Epitaphs: “Plunge vp a thousande sighes, for griefe your trickling teares distill.” Plunge up sighs! Sigh no more ladies, hey nonny no. Turberville was a 16th Century poet and falconer, by the way, more or less the contemporary of Shakespeare. To lift your arm so that a hawk might plunge up into the turbulance—what a distinct pleasure that would be.
Think of plunging when you begin a poem: plunging the mind into the world to bring something up.
To plunge is “to enter fully or wholeheartedly into,” as in this Edmund Burke line: “The character of their party is to be very ready to plunge into different business.”
Let the poem enter itself, don’t tarry or saunter. Go wholeheartedly, or I’d like to say here, wholebrainedly into the poem. Fire those brain cells. If you must stand up and wave your arms to bring your whole heart, your whole brain into the business of the poem, then stand up.
Or in some other way, get your body moving. Make those brain cells that send information out into the world sizzle. For me, Bach is perfect. At the piano, my hands move because my brain speaks to them, and my brain speaks because my eyes study the notes on the page, a page that stands upright on the piano, and with the first notes, everything is plunging suddenly, completely surrounded by the world Bach creates. And then I return to the page, ready to plunge into the poem.
To plunge is “to baptize by immersion” In plunging, both the poet and the reader are baptized into the world of the poem. You, writing, must go beneath the water, submerge yourself.
To plunge is “to move or travel forth rapidly, abruptly, recklessly.” Emphasis on reckless. Do not be shy. Do not go gentle.
One last use of plunge comes from the gardening world. One way of planting is to put the entire pot with the plant inside it right down into the soil, that is to plunge the plant. Another perspective on immersion: once immersed, the poem can grow into something that flourishes where it can been seen by all. This pot might be a strict form, a sonnet, say; or it might be a tone or emotional stance; or it might be a motif of repetition or image. Put your poem into such a pot, but don’t let it sit on the surface, plunge it, so that it might take on a new life.
Touch body to brain and plunge yourself into the poem forthwith.
Author’s Bio.: Athena Kildegaard writes poetry mostly, but she has also written short stories, scripts for television, columns, and nonfiction. Her books of poetry are Rare Momentum (2006), Bodies of Light (2011), both from Red Dragonfly Press, and Cloves & Honey (2012) from Nodin Press. Her poems appear widely in literary journals and anthologies. She has received grants from the Lake Region Arts Council and the Minnesota State Arts Board and the LRAC/McKnight Fellowship. She is a lecturer at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Athena is currently serving as a co-editor of the Lake Region Review and as treasurer of the LRWN. Check out her blog/website at http://athenakildegaard.com/