by Charles Wright
Already one day has detached itself from all the rest up ahead.
It has my photograph in its soft pocket.
It wants to carry my breath into the past in its bag of wind.
I write poems to untie myself, to do penance and disappear
Through the upper right-hand corner of things, to say grace.
And so my low internet experiment continues, though some days I spend more time on the computer than I mean to. Last week I wrote four of my poem essays, two of them coming from nowhere. Which is to say, from sitting quietly, expecting nothing. Waiting without waiting. And it did feel like grace.
Rob and Chloe brought home flowers for me last weekend, including a huge white hydrangea, which immediately deflated. It was a bit shocking and very sad. So, we cut the stem down drastically. Nothing. The florist said to submerge the flower. Which I thought was a bit insane. But Rob did this and again, nothing. Time passed. We were about to chuck the thing it looked like such a sad drowned mess but put it on the table in a sunny spot and left the room. Then, miracle of miracles, it revived.
This past week, we all kept going toward the light, attempted to lie down with the light, each in our way. Ace, of course, has this technique mastered.
I was really moved by an article about among other things, the uses of poetry, in the NYT titled, "Bringing a Daughter Back from the Brink," by Betsy MacWhinney:
"I normally don’t invite poetry into my daily life. As an ecologist, I embrace science. But all I had to offer her at that point were the thoughts of others who struggled to make a meaningful life and had put those thoughts into the best, sparest words they could.
It suddenly struck me — I the one who loves science, data, facts and reason — that when push comes to shove, it was poetry I could count on. Poetry knew where hope lived and could elicit that lump in the throat that reminds me it’s all worth it. Science couldn’t do that."
"The most optimistic people often struggle the hardest. They can’t quite square what’s going on in the world with their beliefs, and the disparity is alarming."
This was followed by a post on BrainPickings by Maria Popova about the resistance to poetry,
"It’s a resistance that “has the qualities of fear.” So argues the magnificent Muriel Rukeyser in the 1949 treasure The Life of Poetry — a wise and wonderful exploration of all the ways in which we keep ourselves from the gift of an art so elemental yet so transcendent, so infinitely soul-stretching, so capable of Truth."
She quotes Rukeyser:
"In this book, I have tried to track down the resistances to poetry, with every kind of “boredom” and “impatience,” the name-calling which says that poetry is “intellectual and obscure and confused and sexually suspect.” How much of this is true, and how much can be traced to the corruption of consciousness? We can see what these attitudes mean, in impoverishment of the imagination, to audience and to artist, both of whom are deeply affected."
The idea that poems can be lifesaving or that they may play a part in bringing someone back from the brink, won't surprise anyone reading this blog. I think I've linked to Anthony Wilson's Lifesaving Poems blog before, and here is his post on the most popular poems he's posted. I'm really looking forward to his anthology of poems of the same name.
But yes, there's very often a resistance to poetry, which I think is partly because it's a bit of work, finding the poems you need, that you love. And because this changes through time and because different situations require different sorts of poetry. Yet, it's poetry you can count on, says MacWhinney, and that feels true, doesn't it?
So, let's borrow one of Anthony's Lifesaving poems by a Romanian poet, Marin Sorescu,
With Only One Life
by Marin Sorescu
Hold with both hands
The tray of every day
And pass in turn
Along this counter.
There is enough sun
There is enough sky,
And there is moon enough.
The earth gives off the smell
Of luck, of happiness, of glory,
Which tickles your nostrils
So don’t be miserly,
Live after your own heart.
The prices are derisory.
For instance, with only one life
You can acquire
The most beautiful woman,
Plus a biscuit.
I really like that line, 'don't be miserly.' Because it's true, there's enough sun to go around.
One more poem by the same writer, which I'll want to return to and re-read through the week:
by Marin Sorescu
All the museums are afraid of me,
Because each time I spend a whole day
In front of a painting
The next day they announce
The painting’s disappeared.
Every night I’m caught stealing
In another part of the world,
But I don’t even care
About the bullets hissing toward my ear,
And the police dogs who are onto
The smell of my tracks,
Better than lovers who know
The perfume of their mistress.
I talk to the canvases that put my life in danger,
Hang them from clouds and trees,
Step back for some perspective.
You can easily engage the Italian masters in conversation.
What noise of colors!
And hence I’m caught
Very quickly with them,
Seen and heard from a distance
As if I had a parrot in my arms.
The hardest to steal is Rembrandt:
Stretch a hand out, there’s darkness —
The terror seizes you, his men don’t have bodies,
Just closed eyes in dark cellars.
Van Gogh’s canvases are insane,
They whirl and roll their heads,
And you have to hold on tight
With both hands,
They’re sucked by a force from the moon.
I don’t know why, Breughel makes me want to cry.
He wasn’t any older than me,
But they called him the old man
Because he knew it all when he died.
I try to learn from him too
But can’t stop my tears
From flowing over the gold frames
When I run off with The Four Seasons under my armpits.
As I was saying, every night
I steal one painting
With enviable dexterity.
But the road’s very long
So I’m caught in the end
And get home late at night
Tired and torn to shreds by dogs
Holding a cheap imitation in my hands.
I'm going to end this week's post with a short poem by Rolf Jacobsen which talks about trees in autumn, followed by a long 'photo essay' of sorts, which looks at leaves at the end of winter. The trees are at last relinquishing those last tenacious ones. In Edmonton, we'll take that as an early sign of spring.....
Trees in Autumn
by Rolf Jacobsen
- when the summer's gone out of them
we can see what they're made of
The vessel maze, the spreading beams,
strength or helplessness, bone or cartilage.
we see through them.