FEED: This color linoleum cut print arrested my scrolling and drew me in. My friend Sherlock used to say that he doesn’t ‘get’ art, one of many longstanding jokes we shared, but I think it’s just this, at its most basic: stop at what stops you. Look deeply. Look at the work of it, if that’s what interests you. Look at the chips, the strokes, the texture, the color. What is it that stops you and causes you to look?
I’ve always loved block prints, wood or linoleum, and this one feels so full of tension, with all the tiny, tiny lines. The expression on the sharecropper’s face is where my gaze begins and stays; I can’t find a name for her expression, can you? What is that? And as always, I am in awe of the artist who can present me with such complexity and beauty. I also love the color palette in this piece, and gosh I just keep seeing things — the way the artist created the pulled folds in her garment where the safety pin tugs the cloth, amid the tiny lines of the cloth itself. Her white hair. The very tight focus, where she is all there is to see in this image.
We’ve been in a days-long period of solid gray skies, the flat white kind that looks like the base coat of a painting before the painting is begun, and we’ve had endless fog and rain. When I sat down to create this post, I felt like my spirits needed bright color, strong imagery, something vivid to counteract the gloom outside and to come, but it was this piece that stopped me.
SEED: My beloved poetry group met at my house Tuesday night, and I have to say: being with poets is great balm for the storm we’re already in, and the bigger storm to come. Poets are thoughtful, reflective, metaphoric-minded, word-gifted people who I would guess are mostly liberal and beyond, on to the far left. Because poets know that words don’t just capture, words don’t just reflect, they have power, power to resist and power to change. Last night was the beginning of our fifth year together; we first met in January of 2013, a fact that amazes me. We’re comfortable together, we know each other from these monthly gatherings.
I definitely have other friends who see what I see, and who see it the way I see it (such a comfort), and yet the poets’ vision is more of everything. More frightened. More complex. More broad-based. We’re all close to my age, I think, though one is substantially younger and one (I think!) older, so we have similar frames of reference for past political struggles — all of which have come at the hands of Republicans, I hasten to add.
So last night we did what we do: one of us would read a poem aloud while the rest followed along on the copies we distribute, and then we’d talk about it. A few of us brought protest poems — Audre Lorde (me), Rita Dove and William Stafford (Hadiya) — and as always, a few brought poems they’d written (Ed, Marilyn, and Nick, this time), and a few brought poems to relish. But unlike our usual meeting, we had breaks between poems to talk about the storm of politics. Our despair would grow and we’d have to take a breath and read a poem, to feel better.
I won’t be surprised if all our future meetings have the same structure; this might be the new form, and for me it will be life-sustaining. When they left last night, I felt fed and comforted, and grateful there be poets.
So I say again: it doesn’t matter if you don’t write poetry. I don’t! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the first thing about poetry. I don’t! I can’t identify feet and schemes, I don’t know types, zip. It doesn’t matter if you’re not hooked into the poetry community in your town already. The poets are active, wherever you live, and you can find a public reading and just show up. Just show up, sit on a folding chair at the back, in the corner, by the door, and be ready to split at a moment’s notice. The poets are angry, but they’re also giving hope — maybe just because they’re there. I just Googled “Austin poetry readings” and WHAM. A plenty. A gracious plenty. There is even a poetry club in tiny little Graham, TX. There are poets in your town, and I’d bet a lot of money that if you put yourself among them — even silently — you’ll come away with something wonderful. And no one will ask you to recite, no one will ask you to speak, no one will ask you to identify iambic pentameter. No one.
READ: Poetry. Read poetry. Poetry can be so funny, so skewed (and yet there’s always something really important inside it) — it certainly isn’t all dense and dark and hard to parse. Here is one that George shared last night, and it’s a perfect example of funny but with something really important to say. It’s titled “Humanity 101,” by Denise Duhamel, and it was selected for inclusion in Best American Poetry, 2016.
I was on my way to becoming a philanthropist,
or the president, or at least someone who gave a shit,
but I was a nontraditional student
with a lot of catching up to do. I enrolled in Humanity 101
(not to be confused with the Humanities,
a whole separate department). When I flunked
the final exam, my professor suggested
I take Remedial Humanity where I’d learn the basics
that I’d missed so far. I may have been a nontraditional student,
but I was a traditional person, she said, the way a professor
can say intimate things sometimes, as though
your face and soul are aglow in one of those
magnified (10x) makeup mirrors.
So I took Remedial Humanity, which sounds like an easy A,
but, believe me, it was actually quite challenging.
There were analogy questions, such as:
Paris Hilton is to a rich U.S. suburban kid
as a U.S. middle-class kid is to:
1.) a U.S. poverty-stricken kid,
2.) a U.S. kid with nothing in the fridge,
3.) a Third World kid with no fridge at all.
We were required to write essays about the cause of war—
Was it a phenomenon? Was it our lower animal selves?
Was it economics? Was it psychological/sexual/religious
(good vs. evil and all that stuff)? For homework
we had to bend down to talk to a homeless person
slouched against a building. We didn’t necessarily have to
give them money or food, but we had to say something like
How are you? or What is your favorite color?
We took field trips to nursing homes, prisons,
day-care centers. We stood near bedsides
or sat on the floor to color with strange little people
who cried and were afraid of us at first.
I almost dropped out. I went to see the professor
during his office hours because I wanted to change my major.
He asked, “Is that because your heart is being smashed?”
He thought I should stick it out, that I could make it,
if I just escaped for an hour a day blasting music
into my earbuds or slumping in front of the TV.
I said, “But that’s just it. Now I see humanity everywhere,
even on sitcoms, even in pop songs,
even in beer commercials.” He closed his door
and showed me the scars under his shirt
where he had been stabbed. He said I had to assume
everyone had such a wound, whether I could see it or not.
He assured me that it really did get easier in time,
and that it was hard to make music when you were still
learning how to play the scales. He made me see
my potential. He convinced me of my own humanity,
that one day I might even be able to get a PhD. But first
I had to, for extra credit, write a treatise on detachment.
And to lure you in with another poem that will delight you while delivering a point, here is Dean Young’s “Crash Test Dummies of an Imperfect God:”
Because we are so stupid,
the prizes in Cracker Jacks are now paper
so they can be swallowed, ladders
spackled with warnings. No getting
within a hundred feet of Stonehenge because
everyone wants to hack off a souvenir
and the way home is clogged to one lane
so whoever wants to can stare into a pothole
until coming up with a grievance. I’d vote
the greatest accomplishment of mankind
is the pickle spear. God created paradise
to tell us Get out! which is why we probably
created God who doesn’t much like being created
by ilk like us. No wonder it’s pediatrics
every morning and toxicology by happy hour.
Is it all in the mind, the dirty, dirty mind?
Maybe God tried to turn you into a garbage can
so you could be lifted by the truck’s hydraulic
arms and banged empty. Maybe a snow cone
so you could be sticky-sweet and dropped.
Maybe a genital-faced bivalve to be dashed
with Tabasco and eaten whole or, to his glory,
produce a pearl.
I never share the original poetry written by people in our group, because it’s not mine to share, nor is it published for all to read, but how I wish I could. Last night there were five original poems, and I just listened and followed along in awe, and felt my self expanded out beyond my bones, pushed past my skin, in wonder. “Gone to wonder in the mind,” as Ed wrote in a gorgeous poem, the line cobbled from Chaucer.