Axon: Creative Explorations, Vol 9, No 1, May 2019
Editors: Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton

When discussing metaphors of inhabitation and dwelling and their relationship to language, Heidegger’s enigmatic claim in his ‘Letter on Humanism’ (1946), comes to mind: 

Language is the house of being. In its home human beings dwell. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home. (239)

This statement highlights an important connection between language and being, but also asks questions about the accommodation of utterance and its properties. For Heidegger, the way we occupy language assists us in belonging. Furthermore, in his reflections on thinking, Heidegger argues that poetic language is crucial to ways of being in its ability to illuminate thinking and offer wisdom:

I shall mention poetry now only in passing. It is confronted by the same question, and in the same manner, as thinking. But Aristotle's words in the Poetics, although they have scarcely been pondered, are still valid – that poetizing is truer than the exploration of beings. (275)

In his exegetical reading of poet Friedrich Hölderlin’s work, Heidegger writes his most powerful statements about poetry being integral to philosophy. As Paolo Bartolini argues, ‘Heidegger is said to believe that philosophy does not begin with thought, but with astonishment, surprise, errancy; in a word, with poetry’ (132). While Heidegger was enchanted by poetry’s engagement with thinking and its ability to address the ineffable, poets Emily Dickinson and Anne Carson express their poetic philosophies of inhabitancy in memorable architectural conceits concerning poetry and prose.

Dickinson famously wrote ‘I dwell in Possibility – /A fairer House than Prose –’, where the word ‘Possibility’ is hard to pin down, partly standing in for poetry, and suggesting a rather elusive, abstract and beautiful place where the poet lives in the midst of poetic language and an attentiveness to the natural world:

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise – (483-4)

Dickinson’s linguistic home is the ‘Heideggerian “there” of being’ (Wilt 1984:165) and importantly, it is expansive, allowing for freedom rather than confinement. The house of prose, by contrast is enclosed and constrained. Similarly, in her definition of poetry, Anne Carson’s elevates poetry over prose and invokes the metaphor of a house:

what is the difference between
poetry and prose you know the old analogies prose
is a house poetry a man in flames running
quite fast through it (2013: 6)

Poetry as a running, burning man captures the reader’s imagination with its brightness and speed. In this analogy, the house of prose is dependable but it may be charged by poetry.

Heidegger, Dickinson and Carson investigate how poetry inhabits language differently from prose, and how poetry dwells in the possible. Poems ‘house’ transformative ideas and emotions and inhabit diverse identities. Importantly, these preoccupations are enduring and transcendent; they continue to ignite the imagination. As Anna Kouppanou argues, ‘The Saying of language echoes in the “house of Being” but this house is alive, made of flesh and blood and constantly changing’ (2011: 85) 

This issue of the Axon: Creative Explorations journal explores ways in which contemporary poetry inhabits language, and the extent to which poetic language may be understood as inside and/or outside human experience.Articles in this issue tackle issues as broad and illuminating as the methods poets use to inhabit language in order to write their works and the relationship of poetry to experience and knowledge. The diverse range of approaches and perspectives in the articles demonstrate that poetry may live within language in a wide variety of ways.

It is important to acknowledge that many of the articles were developed from symposium papers delivered at the fourth Poetry on the Move festival, also entitled Inhabiting Language, organised by Shane Strange. In this symposium, presenters broadly focused on poetry and its relationship to language, highlighting issues such as the space and time of poetry and the connection of poetry to ideas of home, place and belonging. We are thrilled to have so many of the symposium papers submitted as articles for this issue.

If this issue demonstrates, among other things, how lyric utterance may be said to belong inside human experience, it also asks us to consider the power of poetry to hold what Rilke called the inexpressible nature of things:

Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever intruded, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures. (1962: 17)

As Ulrich Baer argues, for Rilke, ‘Life is the heaviness between being and nonbeing, which is not heavy but is our “inner oscillation”’ (213). In this way, poetry is invested in saying the unsayable; in communicating ‘being’. Just as Heidegger was interested in Hölderlin’s privileging of poetry, we hope this this issue of the Axonjournal inspires further discussion of how language lives in and through poetry; and of poetry’s enduring connection to our lives.

Note: Thanks to Shane Strange, Charlotte Anderson and Kaitlyn South for their invaluable assistance

Works cited:

Baer, Ulrich 2014 The Rilke Alphabet, translated by Andrew Hamilton, New York: Fordham University Press
Bartoloni, Paolo 2015 ‘The space of language and the place of literature’, in Spatiality and Symbolic Expression, On the Links between Place and Culture, ed Bill Richardson, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 129-53
Carson, Anne 2013 Red doc>. New York: Knopf
Dickinson, Emily 1998 The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by RW Franklin. Variorum Edition. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Heidegger, Martin 1998 [1946] ‘Letter on Humanism’, translated by Frank A Capuzzi, in Martin Heidegger: Pathmarks, ed William McNeil, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 239-77
Kouppanou, Anna 2011 ‘Dwelling poetically in the house of being: Heidegger, language and space’, in Finding Meaning, Cultures Across Borders: International Dialogue between Philosophy and Psychology,, 79-86
Rilke, Maria Ranier 1962 Letters to a Young Poet, trans MD Herter Norton, New York: WW Norton
Wilt, Judith 1984 ‘Emily Dickinson: Playing house’ in On Feminine Writing: A boundary 2 symposiumboundary 2, 12.2: 153-169