Outer space as a subject matter is often associated with the natural sciences. But it is also fertile ground for the humanities and arts. The vastness of space can be a metaphor that poets employ to convey experiences that fall beyond the capacity of prose. To learn more about the relationship between space and poetry, we spoke to Jake Marmer. He is a poet, performer, and educator who often uses cosmic imagery in his creative works.
Why do you regularly use space imagery and concepts – such as the cosmos, black holes, and aliens – in your poetic and musical works?
Space is the infinite well of mythology that keeps evolving. So many beings, things, and places around us became void of their mythic weight and mystery in the past few hundred years – but you just can’t do that to the Cosmos. Talk about the final frontier! The cosmos will remain the source of infinite mysteries, and with that, infinite imagination. Because it’s so much bigger than our language, we invent and stretch language to try to explain it, and that becomes a poetic act.
I know I’m not the only one who thinks that we’re somehow profoundly entangled with the cosmos, that knowing it somehow explains ourselves to ourselves. A black hole – a dark locale that bends both time and space with a pull so intense that it “swallows” light and everything in sight? I know it’s an oversimplified description, the way I’m summarizing it here, but the point is: it’s not a concept that’s entirely foreign to us, to our experience with our own inner lives, and to our deep relationships with others.
What are major themes in your creative output and how have they changed over time?
As a poet, I’ve always been interested in things that transcend language. Space is one, but music is another – it speaks and means so much. The impossible task of trying to do what music does, but through words, has been a fruitful (and frustrating) poetic challenge for me. I write about music, about the experience of being completely consumed by listening to it. I write to be like music – all of that.
I immigrated to the United States from Ukraine as a teenager. It was around that time that I also discovered my Jewish roots, and the language of Jewish ritual and spiritual practice. When you walk that practice and texts that accompany it away from didacticism, you land in a very poetically fertile space. And the same is true of that place in your mind where multiple languages overlay each other, where they interact with each other. I would even say that poetry seems to me to be the only way to adequately hold and examine the impossible contradictions that run through my life’s experience. Poetry is a space that’s made of contradictions. Part of the appeal of continuing to write and think through major life transitions – without getting too biographical – is that I understand them less and less as time passes. How is it possible to be all these different people at once?
What advice do you have for people interested in developing their poetic practice?
Many people conceive of poetry as a kind of “self-expression.” Moving beyond that is really helpful in terms of growing as a poet. It becomes less about you and your soapbox, and more about discovering, learning, and asking questions. Also, ritualizing meetings with other poets has been really fruitful for me – which is to say, seeking out older poets I admire, and visiting them as a kind of pilgrimage, ancient style. Doing that is something you prepare for by reading and thinking, and then writing about later. That’s real craft learning, and a profound spiritual experience. Other than that, obviously, reading – always reading – by yourself but also with others. This includes reading and discussing poems for pleasure and enlightenment and companionship.