The following poem, while a fantasy, encapsulates much reading and thinking on poetry and its role in human life. It came as a kind of unexpected postlude to my epic poem on the ecological crisis, The Consciousness of Earth, which was finished in 1989. After finishing the epic I enrolled in law school. The main product of this venture, as it turned out, was a series of elaborate doodles, many of them variations on the Star of David and its central portion, the hexagon.
The hexagon is a rather nifty geometrical figure. It is the cross-section of the cell made by the honeybee, which has symbolized both poetry and community from ancient times. And the cell is hexagonal because six circles fit exactly around a seventh. There's a rabbinic saying that the seventh day, the day of rest and peace, is actually the center of the week. Moreover, as the poet and amateur mathematician Richard Moore has pointed out, a cube may be positioned so that its outline is a hexagon! This, in turn, reminds me of a saying by Kepler which Paul Celan (whose "Meridian" speech is, I shouldn't say responsible, for this dream) quoted in a letter: "God is a sphere, man is a circle." So the hexagon is a kind of bridge between two-dimensional and three-dimensional space, this world and the other, a symbol of unification and reconciliation-- unlike, for instance, the pentagon.
After I'd drawn a number of these hexagonal mandalas, some lines started drumming in my head -- "In the middle of the city/ Stands the house of song and story..." Within this imaginary building the different functions of a poetic community then claimed their rooms. Ideas I had developed in writing The Consciousness of Earth worked themselves in as descriptions. I felt some guidance from Frances Yates' The Art of Memory, which describes how the ancients memorized by placing information at different locations in an imagined house.
The house as symbol of the mind-- it is an archetypal association; I found it again recently in The Prehistory of the Mind, by archaeologist Steven Mithen. "The Hexagon" can be read as a symbolic depiction but it can also be read as a concrete proposal. Why, indeed, should not every center of population have its archive and meeting room for writers, as a way of keeping track of its own inner life? If this model seems too expensive (heavens, it would cost almost as much as a football stadium), still with the help of computer technology (despite some Luddite grumblings in the poem itself) the archives at least could be housed in one room, or the whole thing could be created as a "virtual" environment in cyberspace. In March 1998 I made up a brochure for an imaginary "Hexagon Foundation" dedicated to this project. Later that year, Madison began planning a multimillion dollar "arts" center-- but so far the plans do not include a space for poetry. Again: why not?
For now, welcome to the Hexagon-- and please enjoy your stay!