Saturday, November 30, 2013

Afterthoughts for the last day of November

It's the last day of November and at the edge of the bay, the water is beginning to freeze. Where the tide has receded, brittle salt ice clings to the grasses and intertidal weeds; overnight the sea has tossed up opaque sheets a foot wide and thin as a snowflake. They shatter when we walk by, crumble into shimmering bits of dampness. The world is set to tumble into winter, but are we?

Of course we've pulled out coats and hats and mittens, and I keep trying to remember to bring my boots to the cobbler, because the sole is pulling away from the leather. I've got to repair them long enough to get to Montreal, where I'll buy a new pair. But rearranging the closets isn't really what I have in mind.   I wonder instead where all of this writing is going....what I am doing with this thing I call Visible Poetry?

I signed on to the challenge to post an entry a day this month in order to defend myself against the increasing encroachment of bureaucratic duties, the way an endless run of small tasks can slip into and fill every available hour. I wanted to recover some ground in which I was not simply responding to demands coming at me from the outside, but making something of my own, no matter how modest, each day, poetry or not. It seemed necessary, a way of finding my footing in spaces where I was feeling increasingly lost.

I am not sure that I am any less lost than I was at the beginning of the month; perhaps I have simply discovered, as Robert Lowell writes in the “Afterthought” to the third edition of his Notebook, a collection of sonnets built from letters and daily observations, that “For the poet without direction, poetry is a way of not saying what he has to say.” I fear this might be true; that although I've managed to carve a bit of space from each day for a few words and images of my own, these smaller undertakings are exercises in misdirection and work to sap larger projects. Still, perhaps I ought not be so hard on myself: as a long journey is built of shorter segments, so too are larger undertakings. How can I hope to find new routes through those more elaborate efforts if I do not also practice, when the stakes are lower, getting lost and pushing onward?

-->"Poetry is not a luxury" writes Audre Lorde in 1977; "it is the skeleton architecture of our lives." She is claiming here, as the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva will in 1936, that poetry is "necessary as bread," an essential part of daily life, like water, like air, like hope, like dreams. Without it, something in us dies. "It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change...." Lorde writes.  "Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought." 

I am not always reaching so far, perhaps, and yet, this writing is, if nothing else, a space of musing, of stretching of daring, of dreaming.  I should cling fast to Lorde's words then when I am feeling useless, or as if these little efforts are beside the point: "If what we need to dream, to move our spirits most deeply and directly toward and through promise, is discounted as a luxury, then we give up the core--the fountain--of our power...; we give up the future of our worlds." If I can believe this is true for others, why can't I believe it for myself?

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