Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, July 27, 2009

I am going to write a poem.
It is going to be a very beautiful poem.
It will have politics, and pathos, and lyricism,
and a savvy self-consciousness about the resources and quirks
of the English language and poetic tradition.
It will go down smooth when smoothness is warranted,
and burn harshly when that's what's wanted.
It will be familiar and surprising -- familiarly surprising and surprisingly familiar.
It won't be all of these things as well, and sometimes it will be hard to tell.
Hard to tell for you, or hard to tell for me? I don't know.
Will I find out?
I don't know.
A poem is a gesture. That's how you can tell
it's not simply prose. Prose is not gestural,
or, at least, not in the same way that poetry is.
The politics of my poem will be amazing,
because it will know more than I do, and I've been studying.
How is a poem political? I don't know, but the poem knows.
If I don't know how it's political, how do I know whether it is at all?
You might suspect that I'm writing this off the top of my head
or pulling it out of a different anatomical feature
and, while such suspicions would not be literally true,
they would also not be unwarranted.
Is this the poem referred to in the first line of this poem?
I don't know, probably not.
I could be walking around with a paintbrush in my hand,
painting my words on the walls of underpasses,
but I'd be likely to be caught and would get in trouble.
"But I'm just writing a poem, a very beautiful poem,"
I could protest.
Ah, but I wouldn't have authorization to write the poem, not there.
I once saw, on a public square in Beijing,
a man holding a book open in one hand
and a hollow, plastic staff filled with water in the other.
At the end of the staff was a sponge, and he was copying lines
from the book onto the square, writing in water from the sponge.
I did not -- do not -- speak Mandarin, but I had a phrasebook,
and I looked up the word for poetry.
"Shih?" I asked the man. I had to ask a few times before he smiled enthusiastically and nodded yes.
Yes, he was copying poetry from the book, in water calligraphy.
By the time he got to the end of the poem the beginning had evaporated
because even though it was a cold March day, the sun shone brightly.
The calligraphy was beautiful, and the evaporation so beautifully emblematic
of all individual human endeavor, regardless of how beautiful.
Everything evaporates, everything dissipates.
For 2,600 years or so, at least since Sappho,
poets have boasted of their verses lasting "forever,"
an unprove-able duration. I hope Sappho and Shakespeare
and a few others make it there, though most of Sappho's work is already gone,
a melancholic consideration -- I mean, everybody loved her,
all the other poets, and philosophers, and presumably anybody who loved poetry,
and people still do, me very much included, and yet
only a tiny fraction of her poetry survived.
More of Shakespeare survived -- apparently most of his work --
though his language has shifted to the extent that we no longer know
all that he meant, not only that, we're not even sure which meanings
may have been lost already. This seems to me natural,
a feature of time, and our relationship to time, as we change with time,
and the changes we make affect future changes
in utterly unpredictable ways.
Life glockens spittily as we bang bangle voracious vicious virtue timber tumble mumbling benumbing without number ringing bells high N G blick universe wes kopf kaput ration mestizo actuarially instead of homestead of steady where she blows and blow she do skidoo whether weatherly or botheringly wellspring fundahoovian gawful puddle pudding proof positive posturing possible possum tater spelunking galumph galoof gallant galleon round round round round
round round round round
round round round round
around around around.
We feel very modern, we like feeling modern -- I like it too -- but I know, nope,
our arrogance is foolish, like all arrogance probably, or most anyway (arrogant to say, "all," no?),
our arrogance is foolish because, really, we know so little, understand so little and so poorly,
and take such delight in meanness and belittling -- me too, no doubt, though my reluctance
to admit it precludes examples from coming to mind, surprise surprise --
no, here's an example -- a recent issue of Harper's magazine has the question on the cover,
and I paraphrase, can Bill Gates turn hunger into profit?, implying, his own profit,
when really, if you read the article, and I did, it's a critique of the market-based solutions to which
Bill Gates is donating millions of dollars, with no thought of profiting personally monetarily from it,
simply as an expression of his faith in markets to solve problems, and the critique had sense,
was persuasive, but in the same issue of Harper's was a symposium of fictioneers and cartoonists
fantasizing the Great Depression that may or may not be coming,
and to hell with Harper's, I mean seriously, shove that Schadenfreude back into your
filthy mouths, you anuses, your delight in misery-making folly makes me viciously nauseous,
and fuck you, I know that "nauseous" used to mean nausea-inducing and not nauseated,
well get a grip, snooty pricks, dictionaries have caught up with usage, and it means nauseated now too.
Now, I don't mean you you, dear reader, I meant you, Harper's.
See what I mean? I found that rant delightful, took real pleasure in my feeling of superiority
to a famous magazine, enjoyed the meanness and belittling.
How childish, how adult, how human, how pathetic.
But seriously, that headline really undermined their critique of Gates's plan to end hunger,
because it was dishonest.
40,000 years from now, if our species survives, and I sincerely hope that we do,
400,000 years from now, ditto, I like to imagine that our present understanding of
how to organize our collective human life and distribute resources
will look preposterously barbaric, unimaginably vicious, unfathomably foreign,
as the slave-owning doctrine of the earlier United States looks to us today.
Death sorrows me, but as I imagine our species tens of thousands of years from now,
having made it through our present follies and found better ways of living,
the perspective of a vast amount of time -- in human terms, though not in universal terms --
that perspective calms me, my little problems, which often don't feel so little,
really are tiny flecks in the oceans of space, merest tiniest droplets in the oceans of time,
hello little droplets, pitter patter of rain in the endless sweep.
Now, no mistake, the perspective of humanly vast stretches of time
and the fantasy of species survival do not dis-obligate me from
doing my part to let it happen, not at all.
I'm here, which means I'm on the hook, which means, I'm wanted,
and so are you, my friend, so are you, very much.

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