What I’ve realized since my son’s birthday is that Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind did for me something like what I hope the books I bought for my sons will do for them someday: or it is the adult version of it, the fantasy that is like yet unlike that of the child. How does Carson accomplish this transfiguration of the natural world?
None of my raised-bed boxes are even, nor my hand-tied trellises straight. I get too close to a thing, to where I can’t see its crookedness. Aside from human beings, you need to step back aways to see the crookedness in a thing. I wish I were a step-back person. Crookedness in a trellis you can fix before too many ties go in. But crookedness in man? What’s the point of seeing it?
In another poem, I imagine the etymology of my surname as though my ancestors were plowmen, and I then tried that metaphor of turning earth for the poet’s task of “turning words / back to life, to light not stellar / but diffuse, like moonlight spread // across some field I must cross / by foot, by dream, by shadow.”
In my pre-computer days, when I wanted to copy out a favorite poem to memorize it, just moving it through my brain to my hand already made it part of me. Keyboarding favorite poems, which is my current practice, just doesn’t do this. Then of course there’s the ultimate laziness of copy/pasting a poem from a website.
I can say, with joy and gratitude, that Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete was one of my mentors, and for a brief and very charmed time in my life, as I studied theology at the Pope John Paul II Institute in Washington DC in my early twenties, my way of seeing reality was permanently and dramatically changed by him. He gave me an infinite horizon.
“It was good to be in Chicago.”
What comes next? How about this: “On the way to Santiago.”
That’s Kenneth Koch in Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry. He’s demonstrating how one line of a poem leads to another.
He liked to be called El Santo (Spanish for “the Saint”). In almost anyone else on the planet it would be considered a sort of spiritual vanity or pretension. But in the case of Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, it was both a joke and a piece of deep theological wisdom.
Howard Nemerov, far from an absolutist about form, meter, and rhyme, nevertheless
preferred to write within certain boundaries of poetic tradition. “I like filling out the old forms,” he’d say with a bemused smile as if referring to his income tax returns, “they keep me from being stupider than the law allows.”
Books are also made from other books. I picture literature as a house haunted by the ghosts of authors past, full of echoes and whispers. I may only be able to name the literary ancestors of a given book after the fact, but I always know that they exist.
Stories do not end. The teller of the tale falls silent. If the telling is done well, we feel we’ve truly seen into the world where fiction occurs, and when the teller of the tale falls silent we sense that the story goes on, just as it extends back further than we perceive before the teller began the tale.
Here, in his latest volume of poetry—Teaching the Soul to Speak—Murray Bodo is saying some goodbyes. Bodo is in his eighties, as he mentions in several of the poems. His yearly pilgrimages to Assisi are apparently over, but the city and all that it has meant to him stay alive in his poems, filling an entire section of the book.
“You are not their mother,” my godmother Shatzi says, as she has from the very moment—a scant year ago—that I became engaged to their father, a widower with eight children: three grown, three at home, two back-and-forth in university. It is quarantine winter—gray Virginia here, icy Quebec at her home far away.
I want to write about a certain kind of prose. It is the kind of prose that gets lost in itself. The kind of writing that tumbles head over heels and threatens to drown in its own wake. But not quite. The kind of prose that drowns completely is not so interesting. And the prose that never gets lost is not so interesting either.
I’m living. I’m dying. I’m coming to an end. As I do, my wish is this: I’d like to stay awake, I’d like to pay attention as I live through the days between now and my last day at the university, between now and my last day, my last hour, my last human breath.
Two poems of A. R. Ammons, in particular, have stayed with me as touchstones for over thirty years, the much-anthologized “Corsons Inlet” and his lesser-known poem on the nature of thought, “The Misfit.” These poems seem important to me as warnings against the rigidity of a closed mind.
Not that long ago, I was talking to somebody—at the farmer’s market, of all things—on the hot, somewhat pundit-y subject of “cultural appropriation.” I remarked to a friend that I was in big trouble, because all my favorite cultures had been appropriated.
My mother read mysteries by American authors, but I have never been interested in mysteries set elsewhere than in England. The best of all such mysteries, in my opinion, and perhaps the one that best justifies my feeling for the genre, is the one that I have just re-read, Sayers’s finest work, The Nine Tailors.
You might be wondering how I can be so confident that our children will be happy to let recitals drift into oblivion. How do I know? Because I have been to scores of recitals and exhibitions, for music, for dance, even Lego robotics. The only people who are more obviously, thoroughly miserable than the adults are the children.
There’s no time, only space. I am sub specie aeternitatis. There will be no more suffering. It has been laid down and covered over, swaddled in boundless white. Peace: that’s how it is for me, swaddled too. I have the snow to keep me warm.
I think God’s miracles come in all shapes and sizes, and that many are mistaken for simple chance. We miss seeing them for what they are every day. The miracle at the heart of In Things Unseen is both big and small, in that it affects the entire world yet is only known by four people. In other words, it’s a personal miracle on a public stage.