Charles Simic's 'Country Fair', for example, the poet casts a spotlight on a particular scene not just to illuminate it but to make us think about what lies in shadow. 'Country Fair' has what I think is surely one of the most striking openings of any poem:
If you didn't see the six-legged dog,
it doesn't matter.
The extra legs, Simic tells us, soon became unremarkable anyhow:
One got used to them quickly
And thought of other things.
Like, what a cold, dark night
To be out at the fair.
Then the keeper threw a stick
And the dog went after it
On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
Which made one girl shriek with laughter.
She was drunk and so was the man
Who kept kissing her neck.
The dog got the stick and looked back at us.
And that was the whole show.
The point of this haunting poem, of course, is precisely that these stanzas are not 'the whole show'. We're left with far more questions than answers. As such, Simic evokes a sprawling, bizarre, half-sinister world that stretches far beyond the confines of his poem.
Socrates' admission that "all I know is that I know nothing." Poetry has a healthy relationship with incompleteness; the same incompleteness which can seem like a threat or weakness to some disciplines. Iain McGilchrist writes about the quest for certainty in sciences and humanities in his book 'The Master and His Emmisary', demonstrating how this quest may be a flawed one. Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem elegantly illustrates the impossibility of completeness. Gödel's mathematical theorum demonstrates that within a consistent system of axioms, there will always be statements (in this case, about numbers) which are true but cannot be proved by the system. Therefore, such a system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.
McGilchrist extends these arguments to demonstrate the points of weakness in rationalism and, typically, frames the quest for certainty and the existence of incompletness in terms of the brain's hemispheric differences. It is the 'way of seeing' characteristic of the left hemisphere that over-values this kind of certainty and, in doing so, creates a self-referential 'hall of mirrors' which it is difficult to see outside of. The right hemisphere by contrast, is more capable of what Keats called 'negative capability' - the tolerance of uncertainty.
Andrew Greig's poem 'Norman's Goodnight', and it seems appropriate to let this poem have the last word. In the piece, Greig considers death as a form of departure:
in a bunker.
Another on his doorstep,
Christmas morning, shovelling snow.
When I go
may it be like that,
a short fall down and out
while busy in open air
like a pigeon
winging it across clear sky
curves then plummets,
brought down by stray buckshot.
All the poet wants is the time, in this sudden departure, to murmur 'some brief word of thanks / and letting go -'. He recalls the last time he saw the late, great poet Norman MacCaig, standing at the door of his house and how MacCaig said goodbye:
as I turned the stair
his hand came up, waved:
Masterly concision -
thank you and
goodnight in one.
I hope to be
even briefer as I fall: