We shape clay into a pot
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

          —Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching

Less is less
than emptiness
holds within its hollows,
less than what follows
between is and is not,
less than sharp shots
of harsh words,
less than what's heard
when an ear turns
against itself to learn
the lessons of a closed door,
a cold heart, a barren floor;
sometimes less is less,
yes, but sometimes less is more.

originally published in the Lawrence Journal-World

Just thought it was germane to the conversation at this point.


J.H. Stotts said...

'what follows/between is and is not'

i know it rhymes, but isn't that a contradiction in terms?
if it follows is and is not, it can't come between.

Matthew W. Schmeer said...

No. The question is, what *does* come between is and is not, and what comes after that, but before is not?

Is not is not an is, or is is not not an is? If so, what is the space between the is and the not in the is not, if not another is or perhaps a silent nodding of space between, the silence which follows the silence of silence? More silence?

Ah. What is the sound of one hand flapping?

Henry Gould said...

Beautiful poem.

Today it's starting to feel like a real SYMPOSIUM -

J.H. Stotts said...

look where else henry led me today--a section of charles wright:

Nothing prepares the brain
for the heavy changes in the
Nothing prepares the soul for
metaphor’s sleight-of-hand.
Nothing prepares the left
hand—luminous twin—for the
sins of the right.
Nothing prepares the absence of
pain for the presence of pain.
Nothing prepares what is for
what’s not.

Joseph Duemer said...

I like the willingness to use philosophical abstraction. It's a tough mode in contemporary American poetry, what with its emphasis on the image and the objective correlative. The rhyme chimes a little loudly in my ear, but that is perhaps personal bias for a more conversational and "accidental" use of sound patterns in poetry.

Matthew W. Schmeer said...

Yes, well, my audience--a newspaper readership in a blue city in a red state--is used to poetry that "sounds like poetry" and thus the intentional use of rhyme to bring their attention to the poem's message. I agree it is a bit heavy handed, a bit clanging in the ear. But that's not always bad. Sometimes you gotta rhyme to get the audience's attention and draw them in, and then you can sock 'em with a poem that instead carves the middle path a bit more furiously.

It was a quick Google and grab to make the connection to the idea of "less". The irony, of course, is that the poem itself could have used a bit less, eh, Joseph?

Matthew W. Schmeer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Duemer said...

Matthew, I think the rhyme is fine under the circumstances -- you deployed it for a reason. I was mostly just marking my own idiosyncrasy.