Ivan Argüelles, Ars Poetica: Poems 2006-2013

Poetry Hotel Press, 2013.  320 pp.  ISBN978-0-9891578-2-7, $24.95

By John M. Bennett



For almost 50 years I have been following the work of Ivan Argüelles, and have had the honor of working with him as a publisher and collaborator.  It has been an extraordinary journey through an evolving conception of poetry that has been, from the beginning, radically different from the various predominate currents of Anglo-american poetry.  Argüelles has created a fully compelling self and universe that has little or nothing to do with the confessional, moralizing, politically correct, street, academic, or, generally speaking, narrow utilitarianist versifying that surrounds us in the literary world today, which has been the basic mindset of American poetry in English since its beginning.  His work is amoral in the sense that it encompasses all the varieties and paradoxes of human experience – and, though often referring to distant times and places, is, paradoxically, some of the most clear-sighted and reality-based writing I know. 


His new book, Ars Poetica, is not, as the title might suggest, a set of instructions or explanations of the art of poetry, but is the art of poetry. The theme of writing itself – its ambiguities and mysteries – is only one part of the fabric of a life and its full compexity.  The book, or poem, as this book can well be considered a single long poem, opens:


how it matters doesn’t end

it where syntax glides obfuscated

crushed by a humiliating impact

the at first a poem situationist

green soft mauves a flash of pink

(p. 13)


which can also be read as “how it ends doesn’t matter”.  This work has no “end”, no “beginning” (certainly no neat moral lesson), like life as we actually experience it.  That experiencing is at the core of this book and creates passage after passage of incredible lyricism:


let this happen if it has a name

in mud in silence approaching

a house on the other side of the

hill the invisible one the house

darker than before or again

silence troubling the small pane

of glass rippling dew on the leaf

(p. 242-3)


an enormous female deity composed

entirely of dust obstructs the front door

another one with her intensity of sand

sifts the little light that shows through

the mind’s vacancies called living

a memory of white arms shining

(p. 249)


All this is embued with both intimate and cultural resonance, a resonance that is the source of the great beauty one has when reading such lines.  It is made more powerful by being connected to both this and other worlds:


goddess in a white t-shirt, echoes

nameless across silent, pay for nothing

at the end of the world, pink lipstick

of surprise, then aside whispers to

no one, can it be a “gift”? angel

in disguise speechless, no promises

but the wet shift through darkness

(p. 75)


It is amazing to me to see that in book after book, Argüelles continues to refine and intensify his creation of the world, for that is what this wonderful book is: a recreation of the world, a world in continuous flux that will never end nor ever begin.