James Feichthaler: An Invitation to Forrealism

To sound off in some pompous, proclamatory way about “what I think forrealism is” would be to destroy the magnagorous* fibers of its existence with one insufferable stroke; so, I won’t do that in this essay. Rather, I will invite you into the mind of a poet who lives in his imagination constantly; not like some hermit escaping the realities of a stress-filled world, but like a rockstar with his axe, bending the wires of thought, until the shrill-made echoes of contemplation give up some truth in the simplicity of symbolism or language that he can use in his art.

Imagination is king. Deny this idea, and several thousand ideas (in opposition) will prove me right in the heartbeat of a millisecond. And this is forrealism, in essence-- an infinitely undeniable expression of truth; the whole truth and nothing but the truth, with globs of ethereal gravy being dumped on it from the bulldozers of Paradise. “A banana is yellow” is truth; “a banana on the sidewalk, next to an open condom-wrapper” is the symbol for lust, or could be, if described in such a way; and so, it is thus truth. “A tree full of cherry-blossoms” is truth; “a tree full of cherry-blossoms with several plastic bags dangling from its appendages” could be used as a symbol for jealousy, a friend despising a close friend’s relationship perhaps. And since the imagery is an excellent fit for jealousy-- an attachment of rubbish feelings to the early-spring innocence of that thing we humans call “love”— it is also truth.

Confusing? Think of a child playing with his toys and imagining some natural space for his superhero action-figures to exist in: a heap of pillows becomes a rugged mountain range in his imagination; a living-room rug becomes a barren desert wasteland, where opposing forces collide and come to battle; a bathtub becomes a small ocean, where sea-monsters and sharks exist to ravage the poor souls that traverse those waters. These imaginary scenes of youthful drifting are as real to the boy as the air he breathes, a tangible representation of good and evil, of dark and light that his mind has created to exist in, for however long. Now think of art and the creative process of writing. To attain truth in one’s poetry, one must align a series of symbolic stars in a galaxy of already accepted truths that reality puts forth through sight, sound, touch and experience, making one’s works vivid enough so that all walks of life can identify with them in some way. Just as a child at play identifies with an entirely invented world based on real images, so too must the poet give you his world through the concrete imagery of life, no matter how wildly fantastic his imagination might be.

Simplicity is the genius of poetry; to express truth through art in the most imaginatively simple way is forrealism. Not ‘simple’ in a small-minded or lazily impotent way, but in the exactness of a thing, a shape, a feeling, an emotion.  Sometimes the truth is as boring as watching an old woman knit her double-layered stockings by a cozy brick fireplace on a winter’s night.  And yet, even as I say this, the boredom of such a scene brings to mind a cluster of images that one might use to express time, nihilism, or even youth, by having the old woman knit two young lovers into those stockings to show how the specters of youth and age are one and the same; or to show the extreme brevity of life and love as defined by a picture of naked indulgence in two consenting adults, by presenting one of the lovers as the old woman in her youthful prime. And could this not also be the symbol for lust? For adultery? For boredom itself?  Imagination makes the limits of such description not only deliciously attainable but also infinitely glorious. 

Forrealism is, in effect, what all poetry must be if it is to communicate anything useful to the reader: an expression of truth that reveals the soul of the human experience. And that’s the trick isn’t it? To reveal the soul in things, when (for the poet) doing so will never be an exact science.  In fact, even when the poet hits his mark, he is an inch or two away from the center, like a bad darts-player aiming for the bullseye.  But fortunately enough for the poet, being ‘close enough’ to Nature’s mysteries is like hitting six numbers in a seven-digit multi-million-dollar lottery-- the payout will still be enormous.  I think of Tennyson’s famous lines from In Memoriam:

I sometimes hold it half a sin

To put in words the grief I feel:

For words, like Nature, half reveal

And half conceal the soul within.

And then I recall my own scribblings on the conundrum of artistic perfection, and smile relievedly, as an overwhelming peace takes over me:

Perfection can’t be had,

Not with a pen and pad

Or with a wiry brush;

But it can drive you mad,

And is (for most of us

Who dabble in the arts)

Equivalent with farts.

Perfection in poetry is an illusion, it doesn’t exist. An artistic excellence can exist, however, and is achieved by being real with one’s self, or having, as Hemingway said, a ‘built-in, shockproof, shit detector’ when it comes to one’s own writing. The poet must be real with himself in asking the question of believability, of whether or not his words have hit upon some truth in expression. Being ‘imaginatively simple’ when it comes to the craft of poetry means being unapologetically real about a world that can seem unhinged at times, about one’s love affairs, one’s fears, etc. Imagination is the lifeblood of forrealism in that its limitless ability to shape art out of the smoke of existence becomes the touchstone to authenticity in a work. From imagination, we get the poet’s style, his take on the realities of everyday life, the underlying meaning behind the madness-- the dream within the dream.

All poetry has a dream-like quality because every poem is a remembrance of some event, some instance in one’s life that looks back into time while existing in the present moment. This world that we were born into is a world of subtle and amazing changes, of endless movement, constant flux. And yet, one moment in time is that moment ‘forever’ when the poet decides to put his observations into words-- an impulse of creativity and real emotions that provide the reader with the same experience on the first or fiftieth read; an invitation into truth; an invitation to forrealism.

*magnagorous: excessively wonderful

James Feichthaler’s poetry has appeared in many print and online journals in both the US and UK. His poems are truthful odes to his Imagination, which he calls, “the lunatic disciple of his existence.” The self-proclaimed ‘forrealist poet’ is the host of an open-mic reading series called “The Dead Bards of Philadelphia,” which is held once a month at the Venice Island Performing Arts Center in Manayunk, PA.  His first book, “Three Incantations of the Modern Druid,” is due out soon.  You can follow James’s poetic exploits on Twitter at @forrealist_poet and keep up with The Dead Bards of Philadelphia on Facebook.