Enigma and Light
Through its sparse yet expansive lyricism, this book enacts “a complex gestural nest” where thought is created in the spaces between poets and philosophers (Stein, Dante, Heidegger) and visual artists (Agnes Martin, the Gee’s Bend Quilters). This intertextuality bares the poem to its historical tendons, where a taxidermied swallow may thrive as a bottled ship. The poet’s work is questioned and affirmed as song that exists “at the center of incredible volume.”
“A serial poem, a poetics, a discourse on philosophy and religion, an essay about visual art, and an extended meditation on form and devotion—Enigma and Light is all of these, itself a form of devotion through whose graceful lines ‘thought rolls and turns.’ Aware that ‘we have come / close as we can / to severing being // from meaning,’ Mutschlecner’s poems attempt to restore to our language an ontological strangeness that comes from the ‘flood of otherness in faith.’ ‘Let meaning bless measure,’ Mutschlecner writes, ‘and measure / meaning.’ Reader—in this book, they do.” —Brian Teare
from “Karl Rahner / The Dusky Seaside Sparrow”
Tweezers to put the rigging up—
filament buoyed by light—
masts like the bones of the smallest bird
erected under glass.
These dexterous threads—
spun from attention that cannot tremble.
From glass to breath—there is no ocean
can bring this ship improved
to a substantial shore.
There is no improvement
can spark substance. The message dead
in this bottle, and yet the message
still, is read: Dusky—“Orange”
Died 16 June 87
tagged to the lid. . . .
Copyright © 2012 by David Mutschlecner
“The classical sense of ekphrasis of a rhetorical device in which one medium of art in relates to another descriptively. This interaction would then lead to a deeper realization of essence or form. David Mutshclecner’s poems in Enigma and Light both embrace and sidestep that Platonic ideal in their interactions with visual art—as well as philosophy, theology, and modernist literature. Their mode of extrapolation is never simply descriptive. Poem by poem, these works bring image and idea together to generate warmth, motility, credulity, and unknowing. Each vision of wholeness takes its cue from the local—the piecemeal, but evocative sample—in the way, for example, that Agnes Martin’s marks and Gertrude Stein’s coexist in a cosmos where they are ‘both inter-patterning one another.’
“In the riveting poems of this collection, Mutschlecner essays a complicated relationship with the transcendent and the ideal. His Catholic faith is evident, but his ideas are constructed dialogically, bringing together an often unexpected array of thinkers and artists from Marc Chagall to Herman Melville to the Gee’s Bend Quilters to Karl Rahner and Saint Faustina. Mutschlecner’s combined eccentricity (in what other mental universe would Robert Ryman and Nicholas of Cusa come to populate the same poem?) and intensity of attention result in a deeply distinctive vision of the world. That is, the poet’s sheer originality prevents the poems from suggesting a reductive, and therefore unproductive, mode of transcendence.” —from the recommendation by Elizabeth Robinson at On the Seawall; read more here (scroll down).
“At a time when so much poetry is taken up with the unreliability of perception and language, David Mutschlecner’s unabashed embrace of mystery and faith stands out. Enigma and Light is a dizzying rush of ideas about art, philosophy, and religion that throws ‘Veronica’s veil across the face of the deep.’ This work is to be greatly admired for its originality, intelligence, and joyful exploration of meaning and faith.” —from the review by Mike Puican at Triquarterly Review Online
I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1958. I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, where I attended Indiana University, receiving a B.A. in English in 1982. After having moved to New Mexico in my mid-twenties, I attended graduate school at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, finishing with an M.A. in the liberal arts.
I have been captivated by poetry since high school, willing it as my secret vocation. My first official publication was a chapbook called Qualities of Resonance in 1990, but my first real publication was a broadside in high school called “Midnight Train” (1977!). In my senior year I quit the cross country team to sit in the library and try to figure out “The Waste Land.” Given how long ago high school was, I think it would be safe to say that I always loved poetry. The way melopoeia gives birth to logopoeia is an enduring fascination. (I guess I still love Eliot’s sense of auditory imagination.) That structure can effect meaning, almost in a sacramental way (as an outer form of an inner grace) and elicit change in the poet and the reader, deserves a lifetime of attention.
After college, where the midwestern poets were big, my interest shifted to Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan, especially the latter, whose particular sense of auditory imagination is acute, indeed at times magical. My present poetic interests spark at those cross points between poetry and the visual arts. Shared terrain is wonderful. The frame flows. Poetry is best—I think—in a state of inception.
I love the idea of experimental work returning from its explorations to give fresh life to a more traditional form; I love the idea of finding the threads of tradition in a far off place, enlivened by the distance they have traveled. I see this kind of thing in the best of contemporary poetry; I am thinking specifically of the work of Cole Swensen, Donald Revell, and Paul Hoover. I hope my past books with Ahsahta Press—Esse (2002) and Sign (2007)—along with my book for Stride Press—Veils (1999)—share something of this journey through the history of poetry.
I see now that I have, for decades, been interested in theopoetics. I am always looking for those points where imagination informs theology. I have given a few public lectures with titles as high falutin’ as “Thomistic Transcendentals in Dante’s Comedy.” My real theme is that being and beauty are flip sides of one another; in philosophic terminology, they are coextensive with each other. If this is not the case then I think we are forever sunk in style with no content. Beauty is as big as God, so it is infinite, and cuts across all being, hence its transcendental quality. So you see I am something of a Platonist. I offer no apologies. All our evolutions, all our visions, are contained in something very good, and very big. There is enough room here for everyone—now and in all futures—to do their thing, and to be beautiful doing it. This is poetry.
Two ideas from Aristotle come to mind when thinking about the poetic evolutions that have given shape to Enigma and Light. The first is the idea of metaphor as “the inherent similarity in dissimilars.” The pairings that compose my book are often those where I seek a central harmony in two figures that may come from different realms of experience. To some degree, seeking the inherent similarity in dissimilars is a work of the Holy Spirit; it is the ingathering unity of pentecost. In some way this is, to me, the highest goal of poetry. I hope I work toward some portion of participation in this holy unity. I seek a share in holy metaphor that arcs across the whole spectrum of poetic experience. This leads me to the second idea from Aristotle. He writes that “the first cause is the final cause.” Our lives are meaning-driven or they are empty. This meaning need not be didactic (indeed it likely shouldn't be in the poem) but is a certain presence, a leading presence, whether gentle of insistent. Through its evolutions, the poem gradually finds its meaning-form; looking back, the shape seems seeded from the start. At least this is the way it seems to be. And it seems, again, to be a work of ingathering and outflung metaphor.