Friday, January 19, 2018

Disembodied Literature and William Blake

You see quotes on cards and refrigerator magnets with quotes by famous authors, disembodied literature ripped from its context. One of my students read out William Blake's The Book of Thel today and I recognized the line Every thing that lives / Lives not alone, nor for itself. I must have seen it in some wall art kitsch or as an instagram quote. It has a good ring to it but in context, it's grimmer and even more precious than I knew. 

Thel, a beautiful maiden of the valley, disputes with a lily, a cloud, a worm, and a clod of clay on the evanescent of vernal life, spring fading and death coming after high summer. She learns that the clouds water flowers that are fed by worms and that she will one day be food for the worms to nourish the flowers. This line comes as the cloud comforts her in her knew knowledge. It stuck with me through the day, resounding in my head in my student's sonorous voice. 

Everything will come in time. We are connected, even if not speaking. Our lives are not our only. The stone falls. The placid surface breaks as ripples go out. We will never know just how much we touch other lives and other lives beyond those. We meet in the meeting of ripples.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Where I Lived and What I Lived for -- Bennington

I found these snow football pictures Julia Pistell took during our first winter residency and posted a few on Instagram. My friend Ben replied with a quote from a shared favorite novel A Separate Peace: Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person "the world today" or "life" or "reality" he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted itself upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever.

It's a good quote and Bennington is as close to Gene Forester's Devon as anything. That winter residency was beautiful and real. Snow football in the sunset splendor of the Green Mountains made us feel like Kennedys. It stamped me, yes, but it isn't only Bennington and that time. When someone says "life" or "reality" to me, it's that sense of community I assume they mean. I've been lucky in mine and was lucky to be a part of this one in the freezing winters of Vermont, playing with my poet and prose comrades without keeping score, then climbing into the common room through the window, hands cut by the razors of snow, jeans frozen stiff.

Dink's Song

This is my earworm, my sad anthem for happy days of friends and Detroit beauty. The harmonies are perfect, expected Mumford. The lead is Oscar Isaac who I know better as Poe Dameron, X-wing pilot from the new Star Wars. It's an old song collected in 1934 from a woman named Dink who sang it while washing her clothes in a river. It's a ballad of longing for a lover departed across the river to Arkansas, leaving the speaker pregnant with his baby. Whatever river of time or space or circumstance separates us, dear reader, fare thee well.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Rye Whiskey

I'm sitting at the counter of Great Lakes Roasters, warming up for the bitter cold of a January Detroit with a rye whiskey old fashioned. There's a traditional song Rye Whiskey that goes 

      If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck
      I'd dive to the bottom to get one sweet suck
      But the ocean ain't whiskey and I ain't a duck
      So we'll round up the cattle and then we'll get drunk
      Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I cry 
      If a tree don't fall on me, I'll live till I die

The Landrum men have a debate over the best lyric among the hundred or more verses. My father loves the poetic leap of being a drunk duck in an ocean of whiskey and the pullback into reality and settling for action. I love the irrefutable logic of "if a tree don't fall on me, I'll live till I die." It makes me think of Horace's poem celebrating the day where a falling tree nearly killed him but didn't. 

Either way, the drink itself makes for slow sipping in a fast world. I raise a glass to you, reader, and wish you a future free from falling trees. Let's live till we die. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Year

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God.
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
(Isaiah 43:2-3, 18-19)

Disembodied Literature and William Blake

You see quotes on cards and refrigerator magnets with quotes by famous authors, disembodied literature ripped from its context. One of my...