Sunday, April 05, 2009

Simply Genius

In my post for April First, I alluded to the fact that it is not so simple to be a fool. Several times in the past, I've written on a theme inspired by the line from the old Shaker hymn, "tis a gift to be simple," and here I go again. For anyone who actually reads all of this stuff, I hear your collective "oh no's!" and I sympathize, but it seems to me that there is so much contained in those few words that I can explore them for a long time. Come along on this leg of the journey if you like.

I've talked, in the past, about how we use the term "simple-minded" as a slur, and the term "gifted" as a compliment, ignoring the possibility that they may be one and the same, as the song suggests. Today I'm looking at the things we think of as works of genius, and the sheer simplicity that the best of them exhibit. Now, there's a certain brilliance, of course, to observing and borrowing from nature. Someone might observe the amazing strength-to-weight ratio of the shaft of a feather, and then develop a lightweight tubing to be used in, say, a bicycle frame. You might notice the way the hexes of granite crystals or cells of honeycomb fit together, making amazing use of space and structure, and you may adapt this as a core for some very stiff and light construction panel. This is good. It is smart. But genius, I think, goes a little beyond smart borrowing.

Think about the construction of the common soccer ball. How simple - how deceptively simple - until you think of the fact that some genius had to realize that you could take a flat pentagon shape, surround it with flat hexagon shapes, and by repeating the process, you could very nearly approximate a sphere. I don't know who first did this; that's not the point. What I think IS important is the fact that this is something which I do not believe is found in nature, yet is so apparently simple that we can look at it and say "of course". "Claro."

Those of us who read, and attempt to write, become aware after a while that the true geniuses of the word write poetry and even good prose that appears so simple that we read their work and say "of course; why didn't I write that?" And we try it. And we learn that writing simple is very difficult; GOOD haiku is perhaps the most difficult of all, because of the simplicity required. And we learn that we are NOT geniuses. And we learn that we are not simple, in the way that geniuses must be. And maybe we learn that even earning those MFA degrees to display proudly behind our names will not actually change our names to Basho or Niedecker or Kooser or Harrison. Yet, if we keep trying, and if we keep it simple, we may find some moment of passable brightness.

- Ralph Murre
P.S. This is just to say, rather proudly, nothing at all about cool plums - but rather to say that a pretty simple piece of mine is to be featured tomorrow on the Poets Who Blog website - and it is cool and sweet. ~ RM

No comments: