Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Study in Grief

Good people are prone to grief. To feel a loss so deeply as to grieve is the lot of anyone whose worldview comes from a place of empathy, intellect, and imagination. We are students of grief, grief of various hues and hefts: loss of a loved one, loss of a friend, loss of a beloved place, loss of an ideal.

Last night I listened as colleagues and students said thank you and good-bye to four retiring professors from my already-bereft institution. We have known only loss for what seems years now, and our grief has all too often been partnered with anger at the incompetence and pettiness and coldness that precipitated some of those losses. Last night was more of a celebration of the ways these colleagues have enhanced countless lives, and there was laughter, but there were also tears. I know my tears were tears of grief.

I think of Elizabeth Bishop's sublime poem "One Art." She uses the word "disaster" to describe the loss that precipitates grief. For more than a year now, my country has been in the grip of political disaster. Each new disaster leaves us wondering, when will this end? That grief is inextricable from the personal. It is personal. To see and hear it plotted and planned and shrugged away every day by people whose capacity for empathy, intellect, and imagination has somehow been excised—to watch what seem like fully-functioning human beings design and facilitate and celebrate disaster...well, we grieve.

Ah, I had such big plans for this post. I was going to praise grief as a reminder that what was lost has transcended any verb tense. What was lost is lost and will always be lost and yet is, in memory, in imagination, in intellect, still very much present. But I can't do it. I can't quite believe that, as Wallace Stevens wrote, death is the mother of beauty. Beauty is the mother of beauty. We celebrate it despite knowing that we will also grieve its loss one day. And now, we live in times when to breathe is to grieve. At least that means one is still capable of empathy, intellect, imagination. At least.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Once upon a Time

Once upon a Time

how every story starts in media res and has no end [ just a place after which there are no more pages ( and yet you can go back and reread { or can you } ) ] and even in the middle of the middle another story { tangent } starts [ in its own middle ] and one might conclude  [ and never ends ] that one is never in the same story twice or it may be that it’s all one [ never more than ] all connected if you read long enough and find those pages that pick up after the seeming ending { hint: they all do } continuing finding the thread and you are the needle you need to be always upon a time you need to be making ( while part of ) your { [ ( our ) ] } visible / invisible garment yes you { [ ( we ) ] } need to be that sharp

Friday, November 10, 2017

because poetry

because poetry can happen in line at the supermarket and (sorry sculpture) only a modest scrap is needed to have this new thing appear in the world (a world desperately in need of new things) 

because poetry can be seen in the sky a vee of geese for example or the letters in the crossed branches of november trees 

and it may not seem like much (and ballet too can happen in line at the supermarket I hope I’m there one day when it does) but it is especially in these unpoetic times 

and do you want to talk about the stained glass window at dawn that relinquishes its colors to soak in the gray of these clouds because poetry

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Opposite of Chaos

It began with a student's observation as we discussed The Odyssey: "If Calypso has granted Odysseus immortality, then is Penelope getting older than him all those years he's on Calypso's island?"

It's moments like that when I wish I weren't standing in front of them, but rather sitting amongst them, silently pondering the idea that was just introduced. My brain immediately began to hurt as the logic of that student's question revealed itself. I was just looking through some notes on a poetry lecture given by William Seaton last year, in which he said "The opposite of chaos is complexity." The complexity of The Odyssey, hinted at in that question about time, wowed me this semester as I taught it to this avid group.

Odysseus is his own bard as he tells his story (with no living witnesses, no one to dispute his memory or his version of events—convenient, yes?). Disguise after disguise (with help from Athena); he goes from being no man to being many. Ageless for a spell, yet twenty years older. A visit with the dead provides him with knowledge of things that happened in his absence and because of his absence—not quite prophecy, but a prediction of a constantly-shifting present.

A journey, so much of which was standing still, going backward, changing almost every mortal place in which he set foot. Nothing is simple.



Saturday, October 14, 2017

Circe (Odyssey part 6)

The worst of them, swine. The best, swineherds. That scapegoating species, man. Blame me, blame me; I only hold up the mirror. Truth serum (a little wine). They have seen it themselves, in themselves and in others. But it’s what I’m best at, showing them what they already know. Wine, swine. Wallowers in self-pity, delusion. Put a pretty name on it, then; call it desire, if that makes it seem noble. You are your own lost cause. You could choose to avoid this island, but no.

[do you know gentle]
one leaf at a time
these last days