Thursday, June 12, 2014

New Poet Laureate (Charles Wright) and Ben Jonson Provides Chastisement

82º ~ after one glorious, beautiful, lawn-cutting day, the dew point riseth & storm clouds gathereth (see Ben Jonson below for the "eths")

This morning, I heard the news that Charles Wright has been named our next Poet Laureate. I think I've written about Wright here before, but if I haven't, I owe him a debt. I've never met the man, but Black Zodiac was one of my breakthrough books in grad school that helped me find my personal voice. My cousin, Marta Ferguson, the poet, writer, and editor gave me this book when I set out for my four years at the U of Arkansas in search of my MFA. I tried to read it that first fall, and I was clueless, adrift. I put it back on my shelf and beat myself up about "not getting it."

Two and a half years later, I returned to Black Zodiac, having read many more poems by then, and the book unfolded before me, making perfect sense and putting me in a state of wonder. Sometimes, this is the way it happens. I went on to read almost all of Wright's previous books, and have read many of his recent publications. I have to say that I favor his early work, particularly the selected poems collected in Country Music.

(I fear I have an odd "thing" for poets' early works: Mary Oliver's American Primitive, Lucie Brock-Broido's The Master Letters, Quan Barry's Asylum, Wright as mentioned above, and so many more.)

In any case, here is one of my favorite Charles Wright poems from Country Music


Year of the Half-Hinged Mouth and the Hollow Bones,
Year of the Thorn,
Year of the Rope and the Dead Coal,
Year of the Hammering Mountain, Year of the Sponge . . .

I open the book of What I Can Never Know
To page 1, and start to read:
"The snow falls from the hills to the sea, from the cloud
To the cloud's body, water to water . . ."

At 40, the apricot
Seems raised to a higher power, the fire ant and the weed.
And I turn in the wind,
Not knowing what sign to make or where I should kneel.

I think a little re-reading of Wright will be in order today, tomorrow, and on and on. It's good to be reminded of these touchstone poets and then return to them.


In the meantime, I also subscribe to many "poem-a-day" email services. Yesterday, The Poetry Foundation delivered "An Ode to Himself" by Ben Jonson. I confess, I don't have much time for the DWGs (the dead white guys of the traditional canon), and this is my failing more than theirs. However, I did skim the opening stanza, and something about it haunted me. Here is the first stanza:

Where dost thou careless lie,
Buried in ease and sloth?
Knowledge that sleeps doth die;
And this security,
It is the common moth
That eats on wits and arts, and oft destroys them both.

Ok, this is dangerous territory for a Midwestern woman who has the Puritanical work ethic woven into each and every strand of DNA in each and every cell in her body. For those struggling with Jonson's English, this stanza basically says, "why are you sitting on your ass doing nothing? Feeling comfortable and enjoying lazy-hazy days KILLS the brain and creativity."

The poem goes on from there to remind me that if I take a moment out of time to rest and recover from a hard school year, I am gambling with my faculties, and I had better get myself back to the WORK of writing...and right quick.

Of course, I'm able to be a bit more rational about all of this, and I know that rest is imperative; however, having just gone through the pain of getting back to writing every day, I know there is some truth to what old Ben here has to say.


Well, I have written a poem a day for the last four days, so I think I can safely say I'm back at work. So there, Ben Jonson!


drew said...

DWGs (the dead white guys of the traditional canon)

I like that acronym! :)

Congratulations on the drafts. Don't you just love that feeling? Even when you know it's a draft, and perhaps far from "done", there's that beautiful zing of writing energy and accomplishment.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Drew, I wish I could remember which professor taught me the DWGs acronym. I love it too.