(About a 10 minute read)
You’ve spent the day into the night alone
When the moon suddenly rings
Like china dropped on a tablecloth,
Lori decided to organize a poetry reading. She persuaded the owner of a downtown restaurant to lend her his back patio. Then she designed some fliers and printed them up. Meanwhile she was going about lining up people and their poems. When the night came, she strung up some tiny colored lights, lit the candles she’d bought for all the table tops, and turned out the patio’s main lights: A good flashlight would do to spotlight the poets.
A fair number of people showed up, but not much went well after that. Several of the poets had weak voices that didn’t carry to the back tables, or even much beyond the front row. Some of the others had written abominations. Lengthy, long poems, for the most part, that lectured you on their author’s feelings, but failed to produce any feelings in you.
The most common problem, however, was that so many of the poets had shown up fully prepared to read their poems.
You can do a lot when sounding a poem. You can dramatize it, you can chant it, you can swing it, you can sing it, you can cry it out in pain. You can even sometimes drone it when that adds to its meaning — but however you perform it, you shouldn’t just read it. It’s not the newspaper.
Fortunately, the whole night was saved by a single poet. A young woman rose up and tore something about love and the abuse of intimacy from her chest that she flung across the patio like sheets of windblown rain. You almost cried for her, a stranger, even as you stood and pounded your hands together.
Weltanschauung, or “worldview”, is such a grim, heavy, ponderous term that I am fairly convinced Immanuel Kant invented it around 1790 at approximately three o’clock on some cold morning — typically our weakest hour — while sleeplessly suffering from a near fatal case of indigestion brought on by an all-too-heavy Prussian Winter’s meal of greasy sausages and sauerkraut the evening before.
The concept, in my opinion, is pretentious and incorporates only the thinnest shred of psychological insight — the insight that most of us think we have a more or less coherent view of the world.
Do we really have a single coherent worldview, as Kant thought, or do we, as Whitman suggested, “contain [contradictory] multitudes”?
I’ll go with Whitman.
My first wife was stunning. To be sure, she couldn’t drop jaws, not quite. But she could audibly hush a room just by entering it. And that’s how I first noticed her.
One day, two weeks after classes had started, Jana walked into the dorm cafeteria for the first time. She’d transferred into our university a couple weeks late from the University of London, and when she entered the cafeteria that day it was the first time anyone had seen her.
Of course, it wasn’t as if the whole, huge room of a few hundred people went silent. But the noise level did sink so much that day that you could suddenly pick up clear snatches of conversations from all the way across the room. And heads turned.
When the group I was eating with — males from my dorm floor — had recovered their voices, the speculations naturally began in earnest. Who was she? Had anyone seen her before now? What floor did she live on? And, most importantly: Was she the first, second, or third most beautiful woman in the dorm?
Why does our noble species of super-sized spear-chucking apes always rank things? Isn’t it enough to say, “She’s gorgeous”, without having to say, “She’s the most gorgeous”, “The second most gorgeous”? Why?
I opted for third most gorgeous.
As it turned out, Jana’s new home was on a women’s floor that we’d scheduled a party with for the following month. I showed up around eight that night, and started making my way through the women folk. That is, I start circulating with the objective of systematically saying “Hi” to every woman at the party, one after the other, and regardless of whether we’d met before or not, until I’d said “Hi” (or more than “Hi”) to every woman who was not too preoccupied with an alarmingly glowering boyfriend.
Naturally, my aim at that age was to get laid, and I was perceptive enough to know that could often enough be accomplished simply by “working the numbers” in order to find the women who had also come to the party with an aim of getting laid — a perception that by the end of the second semester would result in my being voted in a meeting my floor’s “Whore of the Year”, a title of unquestionable distinction and honor.
The alleged distinction and honor, in my case, was marred only by the fact that my competition consisted almost entirely of engineering students. Almost to a man, they were good, decent people. But surely to a man, they were socially awkward. As socially awkward as they were smart. And, as just about the lone male on the floor in possession of at least a single social skill, I would have won that title even had I never picked up a single woman all year — just for being willing to talk with women!
Towards midnight, all I could show for my efforts were some platonic conversations with a few women I was genuine friends with. They were generally long conversations because I’d lost focus on my objective (beer will do that), and I doubt now that I made it through all the women at the party. It was about then, however, that I noticed Jana sitting off by herself.
After our introduction that night, we started dating. Yet, for all my alleged worldliness, I felt insecure and intimidated by her beauty. She was, after all, the most gorgeous woman I’d dated up to that time in my life, and I was quite unsure of the extent or depth of her attraction to me. Add to that, I was nowhere near her class of physical beauty.
Of course, by thinking of her as a class or two above me in beauty, I was comparing myself to her, ranking her and me, and I didn’t have the wit or insight at that time in my life to grasp that my comparison was one of the roots of my insecurities. For had I not compared myself to her, ranked us, and then taken that ranking seriously, I would not have thought of myself as inferior to her in looks, and felt insecure because of it.
It all came to a head on one of our dates when Jana and I were sitting in a late night deli that was packed because the bars had just let out. Jana was wearing a cheerful T-shirt with a cartoon frog on it. Beneath the frog were the words, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your Prince Charming”.
My consciousness kept returning again and again to those words, wondering if they had anything to do with me — which, of course, is routine for consciousness. That is, it’s always trying to figure out what something has got to do with one’s self.
Finally, my simmering insecurities boiled over, “What’s with the shirt?”
“The shirt? This shirt? What do you mean, Paul?”
“Umm…I’ve got to know. Does that shirt have anything to do with me? Am I one of your frogs?”
Jana burst out laughing. It was the biggest laugh I’d gotten from her yet. Fortunately, she wasn’t laughing at me. She was laughing at the idea I might be a frog to her. “No”, she said at last, “I wasn’t thinking of that at all when I put it on tonight. I just grabbed the first thing in my closet.” After a thoughtful pause, she added, “Besides, I’ve been thinking recently that you might be my Prince.”
Have you ever had a friend who contacts you only when he or she is down and troubled? A friend who perhaps never seems to want your advice so much as they want someone to dump their feelings on? I think most of us have had such a friend at one time or another in our lives.
Here’s another question: Have you ever read a poem — an excellent poem — about such a friend? It seems to be a rare topic in poetry, doesn’t it? Yet it’s such a common experience in life.
Davy D’s recent work, An Hour With Jake, is a masterful treatment of the topic. The craftsmanship alone is excellent: I couldn’t find a word that I thought needed to be removed, nor a word that I thought needed to be added. And the words are true, on occasion almost clinical in their accuracy. But there is nothing brutal, nothing ugly in Davy’s poem. There are even touches of humor.
Davy not only looks at his friend Jake’s behavior, but at his own responses to Jake. The result is greater richness and depth. Here’s an excerpt:
his, a tale of how
his work colleague,
don’t understand him.
mine, a crafted questionnaire
designed for glibness,
adding to the
Poets ought to be experimental, in my opinion, willing to take a risk, and never expecting themselves to produce one masterpiece after the next. That makes it all the more rewarding when one composes an excellent capture, as Davy appears to have done here. An Hour With Jake.
In my experience, there are at least four kinds of love. More, if you subdivide the four. But one thing they all have in common is that they are affirmations of something.
Sometimes they affirm something as narrow as sex, and sometimes something as broad as life itself. But each way of loving is a way of affirming, and each way of affirming has the potential to — to one extent or another — renew us. I would suggest, if you are weary, seeking some kind of rebirth, great or small, then find something or someone to love.
Do all forms of abuse have any one thing in common? I think if they do, it may very well be this: They are all behaviors that risk unnecessarily alienating us from ourselves. That is, they tend to derail us from being true to ourselves, from being authentic.
The most often way I write a poem is to sound it out loud, again and again again, as I go through the process of composing it. I think a lot of poets must do that. It has its advantages too.
When you’re stuck, blocked, and can’t think of how to get the creativity going again, it sometimes is sufficient to simply start sounding words and phrases in new voices. That is, pick a persona — perhaps the way a friend talks — then sound out whatever words come to mind in her tone and rhythm of voice.
I once met a woman who was traveling the country. For reasons I’ll never know, I imagined she was some kind of hero wandering ancient lands who’d brought tales from afar to my pathetically small village of thatched huts. She had a way of speaking, that woman, and I tried to capture her voice in a poem.
Who Comes by Far
The horizon from the highest hill is the useless
Edge Of The World when you don’t travel.
You meet people who come by far,
So they must be heroes; so I believe you’re a Rider
Passing to the Sun’s Door…though you tell me,
You once knew so cold a land the clouds froze
And fell from the sky, and the People
Wore heavy skins.
Still, I look at your hands
Warm and dark with the candle,
And can barely imagine
What I’d think their color by Dragon’s Fire,
Leave alone the morning sun.
Then you turn in our shadows as if to say,
You’ve begun your liking of me,
So tonight you’ll stay.