I remember Frost’s fumbling at Kennedy’s inauguration–an old man then, and the first poet to be asked to read at such an event–such a different time. When asked to recite a poem, this was Frost’s response:
“If you can bear at your age the honor of being made president of the United States, I ought to be able at my age to bear the honor of taking some part in your inauguration. I may not be equal to it but I can accept it for my cause — the arts, poetry — now for the first time taken into the affairs of statesmen. … I am glad the invitation pleases your family. It will please my family to the fourth generation and my family of friends and, were they living, it would have pleased inordinately the kind of Grover Cleveland Democrats I had for parents.” Continue reading →
I have been reading Randall Jarrell’s “Fifty Years of American Poetry,” an impressive essay, but it made me somehow wonder if all the books–those hours and years of work–won’t someday be winnowed down to a few kept in the basement of the cybrary, with its lightspeed wifi. A few first editions the way we now have illuminated manuscripts. Who even reads most of these people now?
The essay contained a gorgeous quote from Isaac Babel “A phrase is born into the world good and bad at the same time. The secret lies in a slight, almost invisible twist. The lever should rest in your hand, getting warm, and you can turn it once, not twice.”
One of the few fears that can really grab hold of me, especially before a long plane ride or (as was currently the case) a time of enforced inactivity, is that I’ve read all the really good books. A book that is well-written, thought provoking, and can immerse you in its reality is so rare. During this recent period, I had very little that fit this description. So I opened a book I hadn’t read in 25 years, Particle and Luck, by Louis B. Jones. Would it hold up? It does, and has snared me in the life of Mark Perdue, the archetypal absentminded physicist and his quirky journey around the Marin and the Berkeley campus. Here are a few excerpts. Continue reading →
Talking around the table about the mixed message of Thanksgiving–my discomfort with the often phony-feeling professions of gratitude, and of course, what we did and do to native populations. A friend suggested that there should be a Jewish holiday– if there isn’t one already–called “Misgiving.”
But someone asked me what sincere gratitude would sound like. I think something like this:
Perhaps the World Ends Here
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
Yesterday I posted Jordan Peterson’s rant on how he doesn’t believe the threat of climate change will bring us together to act for the good of the planet.
In response, my son sent this comic, which I also believe:
But to be fair, I don’t think Peterson was really saying, “do nothing,” I think he was just pointing out that we are a divisive race. There isn’t much evidence that we can join together to effect global change.
I don’t write many overtly political poems, but this one seems to sum up my hopes and fears for today.
It’s Friday. We pull out of the Paris climate accord
and I get my hair cut as Aretha bridges
troubled water. I could lay me down,
but I doubt that would accomplish anything.
Would anything accomplish anything?
Still, I’m uncomfortable doing nothing,
an equivocal activist, pretty sure
I can’t count on my teammates,
jumpy as a handful of BBs
dropped on stone. Continue reading →
Yesterday I listened as my favorite spiritual leader, Margaret Holub, struggled for words of consolation after the Pittsburg shooting. She said that words didn’t come quickly to her, and I reflected that anyone to whom words came in facile way after a such a rift in the social fabric would be a charlatan. That online meeting we were a part of was faltering, baffled.
It’s hard to get in touch with grief when the fabric that binds us is stretched so taut that random attacks against schoolchildren, worshipers, politicians who don’t agree with you becomes routine. After all, the unrelenting business of life goes on; you still have to floss your teeth, eat, be somewhere on time.
I think what consoles in these moments is touch, candlelight, song—the primitive ways we come together as human animals in a world that contains darkness beyond words. Taking an extra moment to hold those you love close.
So here’s a song by Aly Halpert:
And last night, thinking about what poem might help, I came up with this:
I got the news that Tony Hoagland, a poet often featured here, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday. His partner sent out this message:
November 19, 1953 – October 23, 2018
You’ll never be complete, and that’s as it should be.
Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.
Don’t be ashamed to be a human being– be proud.