Portable sanity and poetry in the hands of professionals

Nearing the age of fifty, I still walk around carrying a backpack. I’ve been told by some that it is age inappropriate. Whatever. Within said satchel, amongst the myriad books, pens, notebooks and scraps of paper bearing near indecipherable scrawl is a green plastic folder I refer to as my sanity folder containing poems, essays, and excerpts that bemuse, becalm and enthrall me. With the haste in which my most recent change of residence was conducted, I hadn’t in months seen my beloved sanity folder.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions there.

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you a few of the writings that give me cause for pause, reflection, and solace.

Affirmation

To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

~Donald Hall

In the late 1980’s, while a student at San Jose State University I had a creative writing teacher who thought it best that I involve myself with what he called “a poetic community” as he recognized my proclivity to solitude and silence. Thus, he would frequently have me lunch with visiting authors and poets who would speak to our class prior to on campus reading. In this way I met Donald Hall, who impressed me greatly with his down to earth demeanor, straight talk, passion and joie de vivre. This poem becomes more poignant to me with each passing year.

SINCE FEELING IS FIRST
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers.  Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis
~ e.e. cummings

 

Perhaps my favorite poem ever, though it’s probably more accurate to call it my most frequently favorite poem, as I could probably rifle off a list of at least a hundred “favorites” at a given moment, the ultimate favorite different with each iteration.

 

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet, black bough.

~Ezra Pound
A minimalist masterpiece, the ultimate example of imagist verse. Those two lines never fail to floor me.

from Canto CXV

The scientists are in terror
            and the European mind stops
Wynham Lewis chose blindness
            rather than have his mind stop.
Night under wind mid garofani,
            the petals are almost still
Mozart, Linnaeus, Sulmona,
When one’s friends hate each other
            how can there be peace in the world?
Their asperities diverted me in my green time.
A blown husk that is finished
            but the light sings eternal
a pale flare over marshes
                where the salt hay whispers to tide’s change
Time, space,
          neither life nor death is the answer.
And of man seeking good,
            doing evil.
In meiner Heimat
                   where the dead walked
                              and the living were made of cardboard.
~Ezra Pound
The later Pound’s leviathan undertaking, the Cantos, I find cumbersome and cryptic for the most part. This final, incomplete piece, however, while still requiring forays into reference materials, strikes a particularly resonant chord with me. I quote it often.

it may not always be so

it may not always be so;and i say
that if your lips,which i have loved,should touch
another’s,and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart,as mine in time not fara away;
if on another’s face your sweet hair lay
in such a silence as i know,or such
great writhing words as,uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay;
if this should be,i say if this should be–
you of my heart,send me a little word;
that i may go unto him,and take his hands,
saying,Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall i turn my face,and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands.
~e.e. cummings
cummings is perhaps my most beloved poet (though that seems to change each time I become enamored with a poem by another–fluidity of favoritism, and all that. This poem fills me with a sense of resigned contentment. Unfortunately, W.W. Norton, the copyright holder for his works, has seen fit to have removed from numerous websites his poetic works in an obvious and pathetic money grab. Shame on them.
What the Doctor Said
He said it doesn’t look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I’m glad I wouldn’t want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I’m real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn’t catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who’d just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong
~Raymond Carver
Well, that’s it for now, though many more poems remain to be shared. For the sake of brevity, this will be the first of a series of posts sharing those writings that keep me from completely losing my mind. I hope you find here something meaningful, and I urge you to look further into the oeuvre of these and other writers. If you haven’t a library card, get one (they’re free!) and read. I guarantee there’s something among the stacks to pique your interest.
‘Til next time, as always, enjoy.

 

 

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