Saturday, January 1, 2011

Want the Change

Happy New Year!

I've decided to widen the scope of this blog a bit to encompass a more than simply my searching about Catholicism.

One of my informal New Year's Vague-Inklings (as none of them can be properly called a "resolution") is to write here more.  So here we are.

Today Boyfriend and I drove to one of our favorite coffee shops, to program (for him) and read (for me) in a slightly different location than usual.  (Now he's staring intently at his code.  Each of his features is like an arrow, pointing at the screen in deep concentration.  He likes debugging code, but his face looks like if he can make all those arrows' vector sum in the direction of his laptop high enough, the code will submit to his will.)
I grabbed a couple of my new books, which turned out to be "Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again & Again" (by Roger Housden) and "The Everlasting Man" (by G.K. Chesterton).
As I read the first poem in the former book, the power of it swept me forward with something like a low-grade inspiration.  (Don't hurry; you must read poetry slowly, with a halting, back-and-forth gait.)

by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated from German by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
Where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne,
becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

Fantastic poetry compels me to a certain stillness, like the sort of stretching pause in a conversation when it is interrupted by some stunningly beautiful music that suddenly started on the radio. Everyone stops to listen, and no matter what was being said or how urgent it was, suddenly it can wait.
I often feel like I'm gulping it, and I'm both drowning in it and starving for it.

This is the reason I write poetry.  Poetry is a bit like ham radio: it's this special skill you cultivate so as to communicate with other people who are cultivating the same skill to communicate with you.  Few non-poets actually read or enjoy poetry.  But as a poet, I find myself drowning in the beauty of someone else's work often.  Usually it's the work of someone like Rilke or Emily Dickinson, but not always. One of my classmates in my poetry workshop class wrote some things that were so beautiful that I asked if I could keep the drafts she shared.  I relished the brief spark of perfect connection between her mind and mine that is the business of poetry.

On the facing page, the author of the book included the following, taken from Jackson Pollock's headstone on Long Island:


(I find it fascinating how commonly we see this compulsive belief that "humanity needs saving".  No one seems to fervently believe that "humanity needs improving" or "humanity needs a little polishing".  It seems that the more we polish humanity, the more clearly we see it rotting from the inside.)

For each of the ten poems, the author, Roger Housden, has written a bit of exposition about the poem.  He highlights Rilke's assertion that if we accept constant change, even our sense of self must be subject to it, leading to a certain dismemberment.
Housden deals with the notion of dismemberment as a consequence of accepting the constant change of life.  He points out that dismemberment runs throughout world religions: the Egyptian stories about Osiris, the Tibetan chod, in which you visualize your own dismemberment, and even the Christian celebration of the Eucharist, with the pivotal phrase "This is my body, broken for you."

The whole thing made me think about how I've changed this semester.  It's been one of the hardest of my life, mostly because of the constant change.  Unlike most, this one feels like it's been a decade long.  Like a labyrinth, or the miles and miles of DNA coiled in each of my microscopic cells, the distance I've traveled over the last few months overflows the time that was meant to contain the journey.
It makes life seem nice and full, like I'm savoring every second of it.  But it also means that I feel the soreness from each and every hard day, even if I don't remember it.  Maybe I'm getting old.
In any case, this seems a fitting beginning of the new year.  May we simply embrace the truth, want the change, and receive the grace for each new day.  God be with you.

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