A massive pattern of imperfections, near misses,
Irreducible complications and debatable accomplishments,
Which coerce each other, spiraling sideways,
So that I never know which way, if any,
I am advancing. It's the path a tumbling chair might make,
Or cat, grace tangled by a poison lizard
She once ate, who now walks as if
Three-legged"--from "With Gulliver in Brooklyn", a poem by Jessica Greenbaum
I'm always amused by the blurbs on the backs of poetry collections. To me, poems are wonderful things--images and ideas and moments of rapid or lingering consumption. I make a point of reading a good bit of such poems each year, drinking them in like milkshakes, without that bloated chocolate malt feeling. They need no editorial blurbs.
In reviews on the back of poetry books, poems change. They become "sinewy vividly intelligent humanity" (from the back of Jessica Greenbaum's "Inventing Difficulty"), a "grid tracing multiple possibilities of language and form (from the back of Abigail Child's "Scatter Matrix"), or even "an unmistakeable stance or presence in much of his work which acts like a balm and a tonic on the torn consciousness of our age" (from the back of Paul Roche's hiply-titled "Enigma Variations And"). To me, poetry books should say "has a good beat and you can dance to it" or maybe the minimalist "good (to) read".
We'll leave for later elaboration my theory that writing a poetry blurb is itself a kind of free verse exercise, with most of the resulting poems being both unpublishable and yet prominently displayed.
I'd rather drink at the fountain, for a moment, of "having the life I own", as mentioned by Ms. Greenbaum above. Her collection "Inventing Difficulty" is frightfully good stuff, although I do not wish to write a poetry blurb and say that it has "transformed reality one poison lizard at a time" or that it "would be sung by angels if they lived in Brooklyn and liked complex family dilemmae".
Last night as we drove home, down rural roads to towns with improbable names and past signs saying "Stonewall Jackson Memorial", we talked about the ways in which people choose the way they will live their lives. In a couple, each relationship has its own strengths and its own dyfunctions. The same goes for each friendship. The same situation applies to each individual's own life. We saw the issue, as if on the back of a poetry book, hovering like a crystal portal into reality.
But we let it hover, and we drove home. We will raise that spirit again, on another dark and driving night.
Some choices are "made for us". I was born, for example, with extra teeth, a set of supernumerary fangs that came out just after my baby teeth were done, which necessitated dental procedures at the tender age of 12, the thinking being that fangs were distractions. Other choices, though, delicious and painful, we make for ourselves. We show our life's credo through the way we live our lives. We take our potions, and we become the Mr. Hydes to which we have become so attached.
This has been a week in which I can think of at least three categorical pronouncements I made about myself to friends that, while reflecting my view of things or myself, I might have done better not to make. There are nuanced exceptions to so many general "rules" or ideas.
To me, it's so much better to live in the story--in the image--in the poem. I think that one can learn so much more about me when I tell the story of the teen date in which I asked the wrong girl with the same name out or the fellows in a town I know of who held a vasectomy raffle
than from any world of declatory stories. I start from a set of assumptions--even an accent, if you will--which are best shown, in a tale or a vignette, rather than explained.
Perhaps, too, that's one virtue of owning up to the fact that one makes choices and those choices result sometimes in virtues or consequences. This trip has indicated to me that my laptop is about done. It's a slow and steady Windows 95 operating system chestnut, we've had it ~10 years, and now in an IM it will put letters on the page randomly sometimes, or erase an e mail or journal post spontaneously. It's always so tempting to see all life that way--that mysterious forces erase or rearrange our noble wonderful ways. But so often, we define the words we speak, we define the choices we make.
Things "just happen" to us all. I do not believe that we metaphysically author the taste of brownies or whether there is road construction on I-95. But there is so much luxury and promise and imprisonment and possibility in the choices we make.
I like to remember the power of my choices, as well as their impotence, so that I might not only write blurbs on the back of my life, but actually write the poems themselves.
The complications are that sometimes one lacks the omniscience to know the reach of one's choices. One cannot read minds (at least, I cannot), one cannot know all destinies (at least, I cannot), and one cannot predict which lottery scratcher to buy (at least, I cannot, but I choose the ones with lots of things to scratch off). But I do find that the choices that work best for me are compassionate, exuberant, and choices in which I dare to be kind, dare to "reach out" a bit, and dare to live as if ordered thinking matters. Perhaps it is all a quilt we quilt, but the quilt need not be crazy after all.