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Journal, Day Three

By Tracie Morris

Since I’ve been speaking about poetic insights about the world that poets may have by fine tuning their creative aptitudes, I’d like to talk a bit more about what the notion of community means in this context.

Can a poetic point of view bring us closer together? Is this what we mean when we read a poem? Clearly people besides the poet get something out of reading the poem, that’s why books are published, work is recorded and people tour. But does this generate community? I guess what I’m asking is: What’s the difference between participating in a poetic ‘moment’ as part of a community instead of that as a consumer?

I’m curious about this idea because I recently made a change in terms of my own relationship to the poetry of friends. For example, there’s work from friends of mine that I’ve admired from afar, then I meet the author and sometimes we become friends. Then there are people who become friends of mine before I read their work. And, until recently, I wouldn’t read their work if they became my friends first. It was weird! Almost as if I didn’t want to be inadvertently influenced by their work out of some loyalty to our friendship. About a week or so though, I found myself leafing through a book by one of my buddies, Claudia Rankine. Her new book, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is really taking off, but I happened to have my hands on Plot. The poem below made me think about today’s theme for a minute:

Milk and Tears

Long after she grows tired in the night she hears only the child’s
cries. His cries, already recalling, and silence,
the dumbness she wedges herself into. Cowardly,
and additionally compromised, she hears each cry, punctuating
every space of exception, running through her, meaning to break,
to interrupt each moment attempted. She hears and calls it
silence. Then it is as if the hood of motherhood was meant to
blur herself from herself, a dark cloth dropping over her eyes
until the self of selfless near arose.

Okay, I like this poem on its own merits. I think it’s a cool poem and do the usual poetic breakdown of why I like it: the contrast of sound and silence, the different types of calling, the conflation between the sense of auditory and the feeling of the skin in space and darkness as a tangible thing: the weight of the muscles under the tiredness of night ‘predicts’ the dark cloth of the ‘hanging’—and there are some other things too I like about it. But those appreciations are different than feeling, as I do, that the poem puts me in the community of mothers (especially since I don’t have kids, so not I’m predisposed to being there already). I also wonder, since Claudia wrote this book before her daughter was born, if she was already in that community, in a way, since she put herself there.

To me, there’s a big difference between feeling part of something bigger when one is into a poem and feeling as if the poem is something that is now incorporated into you, an anatomized part (and, needless to say, these can things happen at the same time with one poem).

Lots of times it feels as if we’re substituting community for consumerism. If we each absorb the same thing, is it the same as being part of each other? As I said, I’m beginning to have a turn-around/change of heart about this through the work of my friends. Outside of my “friends issue” though, this also raises the question of considering community beyond our bounds. What do we get out of anything, that isn’t part of the way that we identify? Do we make it part of ourselves, or do we go out to the community that it creates?

I like this poem by Joy Harjo, from her book, She Had Some Horses, which, in a way, complicates matters:

The Poem I Just Wrote

The poem I just wrote is not real.
And neither is the black horse
Who is grazing my belly.
And neither are the ghosts
Of old lovers who smile at me
From the jukebox.

Since I don’t know Joy as well as Claudia (although I am always happy to run into Joy when I do—she’s nice and she plays a mean sax!) there’s no big introspective premise before I read her work. Today this poem got me thinking about whether I like it because it reminds me of my own imaginings or because I like thinking about hers. Do I speculate on the ghosts she sees or the ones I would see if I had her jukebox?

This is, of course, a big deal for us teachers, because sometimes it’s easier to get the students to like what you like because of the ways you like it instead of cultivating their own reasons for liking things that they can apply to what you’ve given them or something else. Or—heaven forbid—they may not even like what you like and give you their own good reasons for it. Do we, to make a point they are not aware of, get them to just take in what we say or do we use what we like as a springboard to go out and be a part of something (else)? This “quandary” is what makes the distinction (whether real or not) worth considering. What is it to take in a poem? To be a part of it? I’m not suggesting that we can be completely separate from consumerist culture, I’m just wondering if it’s part of our interpretation of the world. Can we parse it out at all? There are points when I think it is opposed to community thinking, even when we believe it’s what is defining our community.

And, to address a big bad elephant for instance, do we work with Shakespeare because we like him as well as because we hope that we (and/or our students) can be part of a club he’s the bouncer in front of? What’s that club by the way?

Sonnet III

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear’d womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remember’d not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.

—William Shakespeare

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, March 29th, 2006 by Tracie Morris.