Poetry of Reality: Adding to the Stock of Available Reality

‘The art of poetry is amply distinguished from the manufacture of verse by the animating presence in the poetry of a fresh idiom: language so twisted & posed in a form that it not only expresses the matter in hand but adds to the stock of available reality.’

—John Berryman versifying R.P. Blackmur, Collected Poems

Geoffrey Hill the English Poet would comment on this passage, saying,

Now, for me, a true poem has got to end by adding to the stock of available reality. And, what is more, it seems to me a distinction which could give one an inroad into all the distinctions one needs to make between things of intrinsic value and things of intrinsic importance. That is to say, I can think of quite a number of twentieth-century poets who add to the stock of available actuality – that is to say that their poems, having been written, become part of the pile-up of that plethora of actual things with which our culture is virtually submerged. ‘The stock of available reality’ means that once this thing has been written, everything else in one’s comprehension has to adjust itself slightly around it.

—from Geoffrey Hill’s Collected Essays

In this sense we are so immersed in a false or unreal world of doxa, opinion, and propaganda that it has become the task of the poet among others to deliver us back to the paradise of the Real. We’ve lived under the tutelage of lies Inc. for so long we’ve forgotten the world of real things. We read poets to regain this ‘stock of available reality’, shocking us out of the stupor and idiocy of the political and social ruins of modernity. Rather than adjusting ourselves to the screen worlds of the matrix, poetry opens us again to that wilderness of the untamed and untamable realm of the life of things. Poetry may not cure us, but it can make us aware of the sickness that pervades our everyday lives; offer us a way back into reality, show us the world in all its starkness rather than in the colors of our dark civilization’s broken promises.

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