Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gathering Moss

I love it when what I'm reading and what I'm doing run together in a confluence of learning.  I'm currently reading Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer and enjoying the incremental arrival of spring in the Vermont woods.

Gathering Moss is an artful blend of natural history for the non-specialist, personal narrative, and cultural reflection. The voice on the page is at once byrologist, mother, teacher, and writer of Potawatomi heritage, sharing her insights of how careful study of the simple lives of mosses bear lessons for how to live in the world.

In an early chapter, she describes the effort her biology students put into learning the ornate Latin names of mosses (of course, being so easily overlooked, most mosses lack a common name). But learning the names of species and their parts, Kimmerer points out, has its rewards.

"Having words for these forms makes the differences between them so much more obvious. With words at your disposal, you can see more clearly. Finding the words is another step in learning to see." 
 LANGUAGE as a way of SEEING!  It's true. Yesterday, seasonable weather returned, making this a cool and rainy weekend in northern Vermont. A good time to forage for some spring edibles! Out in a drizzle with friends hunting fiddleheads, I was guided by the fact that I was looking not for just any young fern's curled fronds but for those of the ostrich fern (matteuccia struthiopteris), whose tall vertical stalks feather out in fronds resembling the feathers of an ostrich. Equipped with this knowledge, the brown feather-like remains of last year's stalks became easy to spy along the river bank (even from the roadside as we drove). At the base of each I found what I was looking for-- numerous fat, green clumps of curled fronds, like the scrolls of violins. My friends and I gathered a small bagful each, and I later sauteed them in a bit of olive oil and diced ramps (wild leeks) that we had foraged elsewhere yesterday. Knowing what to look for (by name)--this kind of seeing can be delicious.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sven Birkerts on Emerson and "The Poet"

I just finished reading a wonderful little essay by Sven Birkerts about Emerson's "The Poet" and its continued importance in our culture and creative lives. Here's a snippet of it. The full text can be found here.
"For, the experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet."
It will be necessary to keep the sentiment but broaden the reference. That the world seems always waiting seems incontestable, the feeling of waiting is everywhere—it is, I think, what makes us ever more deeply enslaved to our devices: we are glued to our screens of all sizes not for amusement or business, but because we think something is going to be announced. We can’t bear to miss it. But that something is not poetry, unless we give poetry an apocalyptic possibility. We are on the run from the anxious vibration of our living, caused in part by the sense that things are more connected than ever and that it’s the whole world that is somehow pressing in on us, “obsessing our private lives,” as Auden wrote, though the nature of those private lives has changed a great deal since that writing. It could almost be argued that we no longer have private lives, and that that lack, and the porousness that it implies, is the cause of our unease, is what underlies that waiting. We are waiting for something that will feel like a solution when it arrives; we are waiting for the oppression of “what’s next?” to be lifted. We are, in a deeper sense, waiting for our poet. But we are not waiting for the poem so much as the permission to certify ourselves, to inhabit the world on terms we understand, to be free of the feeling that everything is being decided elsewhere. The poet, then, is the emblem of self-sufficiency, and the poem, could we only find our way to it and understand it, is his proof. The poem of our age, the new confession, would find a way to shape the ambient energies and the anxiety of that interconnectedness into an expression that felt contained, that gathered the edgy intuitions that pass through us constantly and made them feel like understandings. Not closed off or insistent understandings, but clarifications, ways of abiding with the terrifying glut of signals. Moving that agitated flurry into language is no small task. It might even be impossible, given that the nature of most of these signals is pre- or post-verbal. Emerson’s assertion becomes a question, the question: can anyone, poet or artist or mere lay mortal, create a confession—an expression, a synthesis—that would alleviate the waiting world? Or have we moved once and for all beyond the pale of synthesis—with only partial versions possible? Another way of asking whether our circumstance is now beyond the reach of vision. Beyond language.

How does the poet, the serious poet, navigate what has become the inescapable porousness, the basic destruction of the boundary of the private? Is the full and authentic lyric poem possible, or is it condemned to being a nostalgic gesture—with part of its impact derived from that fact?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I've been away from this blog for a while now, mostly due to a drive to finish a few poems ahead of the Monsters reading last week in Madison and an overload of recent stimuli from out in the real world--notably the trip itself, which found me in a full-bloom Wisconsin spring (weeks ahead of us in northern Vermont) among friends and loved ones, while also finally getting into some of the deep waters of crazy Ahab chapters in Moby-Dick, picking up a fabulous novel (Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique) by the young Portugese luminary Goncalo Tavares, listening to Sharon Van Etten's new album Tramp, and absolutely obsessing over David Milch's latest accomplishment, the HBO series Luck, which was prematurely canceled due to tragic misfortune.

Sometime this week I hope to gather my thoughts and post something about Milch's Luck. Not a review, so much as a few thoughts on, among other things, the way its portrayal of horses is beautiful and moving and reminds me of the terribly gentle encounter the Pequod's killers have with the calm center of a pod of whales in "The Grand Armada" chapter. 

In case you haven't seen Luck or think a series only 9 episodes long, whose entire cast and crew only learned of its cancellation after completing the penultimate episode, can't achieve something artistically important, please do yourself the pleasure of watching it. I spent last weekend doing not much else and feel richly rewarded for it. Seriously.