Dry Ice


The “dry ice” approach to serious poetry— I-it employed over I-thou— forms an interesting chiasmus with what I call Inter-Dialogism. When you want to jump over the hurdle of ordinary consciousness into the consciousness of another, however briefly, and if the Other in question is set at a natural distance from you, as can happen in many contexts, the result can be insight or a mystified sense of helplessness. Think how this works in terms of worldly power— militaries, judicial systems, governments— and how individuals who fall under the aegis of these conglomerate interests are forced to make their points and gather their information. If you meet another personage, with the insignias of worldly power on them, one way or another, your attempt to make the Inter-Dialogic leap may or may not be hampered by timidity, reserve, prudence, intimidation, coercion, or a sense of being toppled by protocols. Often, if the Inter-Dialogic leap is to be made and the insight gleaned (leading to whatever further action the situation or context demands), it must happen quickly, once the powerful party has somehow been shocked into revealing themselves. Worldly power, as relates to the individual consciousness of those who bear it, can create a brain white-washed by its own armature of complexities and protocols, which make it so that, when both partners in a conversation have vested worldly interests, Inter-Dialogism is beleaguered by the dry ice of no intimacy whatsoever, and often, no brain symmetry (interchange of nations). Everything remains resolutely impersonal, even as, as everything created by the human brain, political armature must show cracks and strains, and those skilled at noticing those cracks and strains can make an Inter-Dialogic leap towards figuring out another consciousness. This all manifests in Apparition Poem 1345, from Apparition Poems:

Two hedgerows with a little path

between— to walk in the path like

some do, as if no other viable route

exists, to make Gods of hedgerows

that make your life tiny, is a sin of

some significance in a world where

hedgerows can be approached from

any side— I said this to a man who

bore seeds to an open space, and he

nodded to someone else and whistled

an old waltz to himself in annoyance. 

The situation appears severe— the protagonist of the poem is spinning out an allegory for someone we assume to be a government or military functionary. The purport of the allegory is the idea that when the human race plans to move forward, forcing individuals to worship forces that degrade, abase, and trivialize their lives usually, and needlessly, disrupts human progress. As to why the Inter-Dialogic needs of the protagonist swerved him towards employing this allegory— the functionary’s reaction would have to reveal, one way or another, at least a part of his brains, and thus make the situation more comprehensible to the protagonist. Thus, the whole Inter-Dialogic interchange has to happen without there being any personal emotion involved at all. Inter-Dialogic reactions dry iced this way, without any personal emotion, when represented in text, are a taste some may have more than others, just as the first, dry iced set of Apparition Poems may be preferable to some over the more personal Cheltenham Elegies. Here, what is set forth is a situation in which the functionary’s reaction— annoyance— leaves in enough ambiguity that the reader must decide for him or herself if a real Inter-Dialogic leap has been made or if the protagonist misjudged his adversary. He has attempted to initiate a battle of mystification— a sense that boundaries are being crossed, so that who is mystifying who becomes an open question. This reality is, as I said, political more than personal, just as the Elegies have politics built into them only on secondary levels. Why dry ice in serious poetry is interesting as an aesthetic effect is that most sensitive temperaments understand that the dry ice effect has its own aesthetic grandeur, just as Shelley’s snow and ice storms in Mont Blanc are strangely, eerily gorgeous. As for 1345, the poem ends with the situation seemingly power-blocked; allegory told, allegory rejected; and yet we know that in politics, responses can germinate over long periods of time. Thus, the battle of mystification works for the reader too, who will be unable to predict either the precise context of this battle (no precise playing field, like Cheltenham) or how it may turn out in the end. The entire edifice is on ice.