Surface Dive: starting this new life with all this optimism and eventually settling in; then Underwater: disruption, challenges; and finally Surfacing: learning, growing, finding a harmonious way to live in the world.
I never intended to get Frost’s birds by heart. For some months I’d been memorizing various of Frost’s lyric poems, moving from one to the next without agenda, allowing my taste for Frost’s wit and craft to guide me. But before I knew it, there they were, his birds, some named, some not: quiet, without fanfare, easy to miss, almost wanting to be missed.
To the American citizens who marched in Charlottesville, to the American citizens who defaced the Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids, to the American citizen who hopes to see me in an oven, I say this: I’m trying to hold it all, hope and fear, present and past, apple and fire, light and gleaming dark, exile and home.
I’m thinking about Lefty because I worry about the growing disappearance of death—and by extension, the remembrance of death—from physical space in America. It’s not new: “Have you heard about the revolution in the funeral industry?” my brother the financial manager declared to me, years ago now—the growing preference for cremation over physical burial.
There is a liturgy of suffering that engrains my bones. The seasons of this life inhabit me. When I was young, what I first learned were the literal seasons: Spring brings hope, summer joy, fall coziness, winter magic. But life has shown me seasons within the seasons. Each loss returns to me in its appointed time…
The poems have happened in all kinds of ways. I was lucky that in college I worked with a mentor, the poet Gracia Grindal, for whom forms were important, so I tried them and got to know something about the way each moves, both musically and with its own shaped rhetoric or logic. I experienced how forms with repeating lines, like the villanelle and pantoum, can weave a spell.
Reading poetry is not like reading fiction. A good novel pulls me onward, makes me turn its pages, wondering what the protagonist will do next. A good poem does the opposite: makes me pause, draws me into itself and holds me there.
Love does seem to me to be the source of art, broadly. Something comes out of us when we create, and it’s clear that it comes from beyond us, somehow. The “acts of days” referred to later in that poem refer to the labors of love, of each lived life. In the case of this book and me, a great part of that life was family life; another was the artist’s.
I’ve learned much from looking at visual art with my brother, John. He approaches a painting in stages, often bending close in search of clues to technique invisible to me. I got to thinking about his interest in how the finished work does what it does while reading two volumes of poetry published this year: Martha Serpas’s Double Effect (Louisiana State University Press) and Claude Wilkinson’s World Without End (Slant).
I guess you could say what I write is “non-creative fiction.” As the saying goes, you just can’t make this stuff up. If I lived in a different place, I’d probably see the world differently. But I’ve lived in South Carolina for almost all of my adult life, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Probably it should be said that On the Sublime was written anonymously since the very point that the person who wrote On the Sublime makes in the treatise On the Sublime is that authorship, in a sense, transcends authorship. Authorship is weird, the text says, and texts are weird.
“The only person that I ever touch,” you write, “left town for a few weeks, and the city [L.A.] feels more threatening than ever…. There must be more to life than writing letters. Trying to describe with words what can only be communicated by touch.” That was in the 1980s, the last time we were in touch.
Within Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha universe, making Dilsey the spiritual center, the concrete embodiment of Christian faith, was doubtlessly intended to be the exact opposite of a racist gesture. But is putting her on a pedestal actually a form of condescension?
The initial reason is that Miss Irene Ashley, my ninth and tenth grade English teacher, told me (and her other students) that we had to. Her assignments: A selection from Hiawatha in ninth grade (“By the shores of Gitchee Gumee…”) and from Idylls of the King in tenth (“And slowly answered Arthur from the barge…”)
Entanglement is a fascinating, mysterious, thing in physics. Entangled particles can be galaxies apart, yet they change each other’s states instantaneously, in spite of the fact that a signal between them might take millennia to arrive. You can think of entangled particles as those twins who simultaneously pick up the phone to call each other, if you can imagine the twins always picking up the phone at the same time.
Probably the best poet to write about her own experience of living with HIV was Tory Dent, who was diagnosed with AIDS at age 30 and died from it at age 47. In between, she published three poetry collections focused mainly on her illness. (One, HIV, Mon Amour, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.)
I was told to put clay in the bath, so I do: gray dirt, more like ash or silt, a dust-petticoated lump of it flung from the jar, soft and heavy as it spatters in the tub. I cough at the dust and leave the room to let the tap run and the air warm; I always leave the bath to fill the tub, like I always leave the kitchen to fry bacon—until one of the boys, always the same boy, calls me back just before the oil smokes.
In her “Declaration,” Tracy K. Smith, former U. S. Poet Laureate, uncovers another declaration, a story that lives within, inseparable from, the Declaration of Independence. To tell that story, the story of enslaved people, clearly, forcefully, Smith erases words from the dominant story.
First, stop waiting for someone else to do it. If, one day, someone does come with the power to heal this monstrous gash, you’ll be asked what you did while you waited. You’ll be asked what you think your purpose here is. You’ll be asked who the hell you think you are.
This seemingly endless summer, in the middle of this seemingly endless plague year of 2020, has given me at least one thing: It is the year I began to grow things in earnest. For years I’d annually buy a pot or two of herbs, or a sole tomato plant, and sometimes they’d grow and sometimes I’d forget and they’d just drown in dry dirt.