The Operating System

AWESOME CREATOR: Peter Jay Shippy, Poet/Educator

Amid all the excitement around Exit Strata’s Print! Launch, I have been thinking about the previous launchings that have brought me to this project. One of the most important launches for me was being set off on my journey into the craft (and love) of poetry.
My own understanding of poetry sprang forth in response to a personal desire for a new form of expression. The expression I found was not, at heart, meter or versification, but words—the joy of words in the mouth as well as on the page. I had already had a couple of college courses in poetry. However, the first time I heard Peter Jay Shippy read a poem was the first time I understood the possibilities poetry allowed. In his workshops, he always read the writer’s work aloud for them. Lending his voice to my words set them free from my own (naïve) intentions. Throughout his teaching, the lesson, both tacit and tangible, always read: Poetry is its language.
Removed from his classes by years now, it has been a supreme joy to continue to read Peter Jay Shippy as a creator who constantly expands poetry. He remains a poet committed to creating compositions through his language, rather than merely playing the words. Those compositions resonate:
Lucas, the pawnshop owner, tapes a sign to his door: Back in 30.  He totes a violin to the park and hands it to its former owner, a man so pale I once mistook him for a pillar of fog.  He’ll play, mostly Schumann, until Lucas whistles and the fiddle flies back to its shelf.  (Pause.)  I have this dream: I buy the instrument and convert it into a boat that I sail over the swan pond, tooting my horn at the pale man.  (Pause.)  I know, so cruel—but we can’t overcome our dreams.  (Pause.)  Why not?
[excerpt from “Our Lady of Vladimir”]
When I first read this piece I was struck by the monologue form, yet the work is a poem—undeniably. He plays with the constraints of poetry further with “Goonies or Wallace Stevens’s ‘The Snowman’: An Essay in Seven Films”.
An excerpt:

 6. One of the three pure ones

Close-up of a radio on a deal dresser. The baroque machine looks robotic, sentient. A hand enters the shot and turns the radio on. Our POV closes, until we are inside the radio among glass tubes, wires, and dust. Sitting on a miniature stool is a miniature Wallace Stevens.
Wallace Stevens: I shall explain “The Snow Man” as an example of the necessity of identifying oneself with reality in order to understand it and enjoy it. And speaking of enjoyment, I’m sending Chesterfields to all my friends. That’s the merriest Christmas any smoker can have—Chesterfield mildness plus no unpleasant aftertaste.
Cut to a young John Ashbery, lying in a dorm bed next to the dresser, puffing on candy cigarette.
Voice-from-the-next-bunk-over: Hey, Ashes, hows about some music? This poetry talk gives a fella the heebie-jeebies.
What astounds me when I read Shippy’s work is the feeling I am overcome with: not that he is working with new forms of poetry, but that his poetry has freed itself from reliance on poetic crutches. Shippy has become accountable for making each different piece into a poem. Poetry is defined as: “The art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.” Shippy’s poetry has done that from his first book, Thieves’ Latin, to the abecedarian Alphaville to his verse novel, How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic. He has grown in various and tantalizing directions as a creator. I feel fortunate that he has taken poetry along for the journey.
It is inspiring to see a writer whose work is constantly growing outward to accommodate his development. The consummate idea of an awesome creator is a person that takes the art form that speaks to them and molds that to fit their art, rather than trying to fit their art into a preexisting form. There is nothing procrustean in Shippy’s poetry. I admire the strength of his work as it travels farther from the preconceptions of poetics and closer to its beating heart.
When I asked him what the push behind that movement was he wrote back, “I think, really, I want to sing more, to just sustain a note, hopefully beautiful…” I am looking forward to hearing more of those notes resound.
Keep creating, keep growing, keep inspiring.
[Editor’s note: Check out Peter Jay Shippy guest blogging this week for Best American Poetry Lots of tasty poetry thoughts to chew on. Enjoy them!]

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