Skip to page content
Return to Top

Creative Arts Day Speaker

Dave Parson   

The Creature: Duende

Whenever I find myself with a group of poets or students in creative writing classes and the discussion wanders . . . wonders to the question of what makes a poem a poem, I most always think of duende, that mysterious force that renown Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca introduced to western artists of all genres as the dark power of the creative spirit, a “deep song,” as he put it in his famous lecture on La Teoria y Juego del Duende—The Theory and Function of Duende." These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art. . .”  “Thus duende is a power and not a behavior; it is a struggle and not a concept. I have heard an old master guitarist say: ‘Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet.’ Which means it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture;of creative action."My notion is that it is a perfect representation of that moment when a uniquely individual entity pushes awareness for us all out into the fringes of what we now accept as reality, thus, enlarging our world. One of the reasons that the question of how a poem may be defined always seems to arise is the fact that the poem is constantly being redefined by working poets all over the world. In the title poem of my collection of poems, Feathering Deep, I refer to that moment as,unconscious understanding.


I believe it to be

unlike any other



the manner in which

it carries us in

upon its own silence


the way an idea drifts

into the grey divide

where we find ourselves


in that sacred state—easing

quietly into the dark duende

to unconscious understanding


a lone canoe at midnight—blades

paddling deep—smoothly

and deftly feathering


that largest of bodies


Edward Hirsch in his extraordinary work, The Demon and the Angel,refers to Henry Corbin’s Latin term mundus imaginalis for this moment, writing, “It is a transcendence deployed in language. It is the specific place where Saint John of the Cross composes his Spiritual Canticles, where Arthur Rimbaud enters a rational delirium and Hart Crane systematically deranges the senses, where Gerad de Nerval formulates visions and Robert Desnos simulates trances, where William Blake canonizes voices and where W.B. Yeats listens to unknown instructors speaking through his wife’s unconscious, where Wallace Stevens imagines that God and the imagination are One and Rainer Maria Rilke stars taking dictation from angels.”

How do you come up with a strict definition of something in constant rebirth? Jorge Luis Borges believed that, “poetry could not be defined without oversimplifying it. “It would be like trying to define the color yellow, or love, or autumn leaves.” He called it, “that light substance, winged and sacred.” The title poem of my book, Color of Mourning, deals with the idea that our perceptions of the world, such as colors, carry within the elements of emotion:


She awakened to Texas summer bright

in her eyes, throwing on a new yellow

robe, she dragged her body into the kitchen

to make coffee which she dug from a deep

yellow decanter.  Awareness steeps through

the heart beating perks, her eyes fall on the child’s

drawing that was stuck on the refrigerator door,

a yellow duck swimming on deep dark

water under another bloody sun brimming

with amber iris—Iris, goddess of the rainbow,

adding to the litany of golden messengers, all

bringing to her mind the dress, the yellow

dress that she had given to her niece

for her fifth birthday, the sweet lemon

yellow dress that the child delighted in so

that today she was to be buried in it—the sanctuary

of the summer kitchen felt unusually cold

as she cracked a single egg, spilling

carefully the delicate yoke onto melting butter

thinking, yellow—yellow—

yellow should not feel like this.

We do not only recognize colors, we interact with them in a way that they enlarge our experiences and help us redefine, or reconstitute ourselves in a uniquely enigmatic manner. My poem attempts to allow the reader inside the head of a woman waking to a day of seeing the color of yellow, the color of her niece’s burial dress, in the many things of her summer kitchen, ending with the epiphany: yellow, yellow/, yellow should not feel like this. All our senses hold within the possibility of evoking every possible human emotion.

The next observation that I usually come to, is the fact that since we are all individuals, as unique as snowflakes, as the cliché is expressed, our goal as poets (or any artist) is to get in touch with that internal creature that sets us apart from everyone else, many would call it soul, and allow it to guide us in the endeavor. I think most writers and artist would call it, Voice . . . . I capitalize it for good reason.  I have always believed and espoused that every individual has a unique poem or story to offer the world.  Because everyone is a unique entity and living their own individual life journey, they hold deep within themselves the deep essence of a possible report to the world like no other before. The artist must surrender intellect to intuition. I would equate this moment of inspiration to what the Chinese call “riding the dragon.” Robert Bly has said, “In the dragon smoke of many ancient works of art we notice a long floating leap at the center of the work.  That leap can be described as a leap from the conscious to the unconscious and back again, a leap from the known part of the mind to the unknown part and back again.” Therein lays the seed for the possibility of the creation of a piece of art that, like Walt Whitman’s “body electric,” seems to be lit from within with a soulful spirit of ineffable emotion. The poet, Charles Simic, has written that making art in America is about saving one’s soul. I would add that it is also about discovering the true essence of one’s self.