Autodidact

Teaching yourself has some advantages. For one, you have no one to answer to, so you can learn at your own pace. Now that can also be a drawback, as having regular requirements, assignments, readings, and so on can keep you on track. I’ve always been good at meeting deadlines when the work is something interesting to me in some way.

Taking classes can be rewarding in many ways, as can pursuing degrees and certifications. But the value of teaching oneself is immeasurable. I was married to a girl who was homeschooled, and by exposure to that subculture I was able to draw many parallels to my own methods as well as draw on a repository of techniques.

Catholic elementary education, with its high standards, public high school (less rigorous), attendance at two universities and a community college, and restless pursuit of what I think of as “general knowledge” (the sum total of human learning, a top-down approach that assumes the interrelation of the many disciplines or branches on the tree of knowledge) give me a certain perspective that, if I may be so bold, no one else quite possesses.

It’s a new year, and with that convenient marker of time come inevitable decisions concerning the alteration of one’s life mission and goals. I’m no different, although coming into my maturity makes me less apt to choose unreasonable or unrealistic goals.

Instead, this year I’d like to just spend more time doing the things I’m good at, and getting better at them. Poetry dominated my consciousness for a good six months, an inevitable outcome considering my view of the world as a place pregnant with meaning, in which the boundaries between each thing in itself are tenuous at best. Photography instigated this intensive investigation, but that’s an entire topic in itself, beyond the scope of this post.

In 2019 I’d like to continue my study of poetry both more intensively and extensively. As a photographer, I’ve developed a certain skillset concerning a certain narrow scope of subject matter and technique, so I’d like to broaden that base a bit with some new people in front of my lens and some new techniques in lighting, especially shooting at night and with flash. Musically, the way forward seems to be to simply stop living in denial that harmonics, resonances, rhythms, and noises form the skeleton and organs of my life, and I could no more do without them than I could do without the air in my lungs or the blood in my veins.

If there’s one thing that I truly believe about us (unreliable narrator mode is off, trust me!) it’s that the human capacity for learning is limitless. It’s true that the scope of human learning has surpassed what one person can reasonably hope to digest in one lifetime, but I maintain that a person can continue to learn until the moment of death. It’s one of the things about us that makes us unique from the other animals, and those singular qualities of the species, the things that most define us, are the mandate of heaven, the rules for living that we must follow whether we want to or not. We can only be what we are.

To recognize the things that make us uniquely human, to embrace them and spend time cultivating them, this is to imitate the creative force responsible for existence. To learn and use what we learn to make is divine.

High flown poetic stuff, volcanoes, etc.

Poetry has suddenly and mercilessly erupted into my life and consciousness, much like Irazú and Arenal, active Costa Rican volcanoes I once visited on a trip there. Lava bombs ravage the countryside of my soul, demolishing every ramshackle structure in sight, making way for new ones. I say suddenly, but long did the poem’s magma stream below my life’s surface, slow effusive eruptions in the form of songs and photographs while the pressure below the surface mounted, waiting for its moment to explode.

All this is to say that along with this drive to find poems comes the desire to improve the writing in terms of effectiveness and craftsmanship. To do that, I need to read poems more extensively and intensively, and supplement that reading with fresh experience and study of other subjects. I’ll look for instruction and feedback from better poets, more established poets.

When the work begins to succeed in invoking the intended emotions in the reader, I’ll seek publication. As it is I believe that I possess a certain linguistic dexterity, but my use of it feels out of proportion. It seems sometimes bit too effusive, at other times a bit too explosive, perhaps too volcanic overall. I need to write enough and get critiqued enough to get into the groove of an assured voice and methodology.

My entrance into the house of poetry has only just begun, but the upward path toward it has been long and slow and inexorable. My arrival at its door feels inevitable, like a homecoming.

Disintegration

My belief has always been that those with greater means and opportunity are obligated to do what they can to help those less well-endowed. Parents are obliged to feed, shelter, and instruct their children, for example.

Beyond this, each of us lives in and benefits from the society around us. Our legal systems, housing complexes, roads, fire departments, book clubs, temples, elected officials and so on are in place to protect us from the mercilessly impartial brutality of nature as well as to nurture our gregarious mammalian instinctual drives.

Since every one of us has a room in this great matchstick house, isn’t it up to each of us to occasionally throw a bucket of water to keep it from going up in flames?

There’s a lot of talk about polarization these days, but atomization is perhaps a more apt analogy. A polarized society might have clear lines drawn between a minimal number of antagonistic forces. But when the old clear affiliations (political right and left, for instance) are riven and striated by countless ancillary disputes, the result resembles nothing so much as disintegration.

Is even poetry in such a splintered state? In a recent Guardian article, a couple of prominent British writers denounced the state of poetry today, citing a perceived lack of craftsmanship amongst other alleged deficiencies. Robin Robertson says that “the world of poetry is small and currently polarised.”

While the rise of “Instagram poets” may fail to elevate the art and craft of poetry beyond the most maudlin greeting card cliches, we might ask the well-known and successful writers quoted in the linked article, “is such critique at all necessary?” Rather than support for those on the margins and with less means and opportunity, rather than a not-all-that-difficult attempt at unity within this facet of the broader culture, is further division what the world needs?

Even if answered affirmatively, it makes little difference. The role of a bard in society is to map the inner geography. The poet is the cartographer of the soul.

In the love relationship between poet and poetry, the former is the beloved, the one wanted, the quarry, while the latter is the lover, the huntress, an invisible force of nature made manifest through the human animal’s unique capacity for speech. Poetry will not be corralled or controlled by our wishes or expectations or standards. Its locomotion is as free as the kestrel’s.

Poetry is animal nature, it is biosphere, it is weather system. You don’t just walk up to poetry and introduce yourself. It envelops you. It surrounds you entirely and constricts you in its tentacles until your entire life consists of non-sequitur and mixed metaphor.

It ultimately doesn’t matter what anyone says about contemporary poets or their work because the force of its desire for incarnation is irrepressible. The sheer futility of any academic attempt to repress the voices of the oppressed renders moot the question of whether their savaging of contemporary poetic work is necessary.

Poetry reflects the condition of the human soul. It can’t always conform to iambs and rhyming couplets, and although such musicality provides much enjoyment, it’s not always necessary.

Lou Reed & John Cale's "Small Town"

I won’t ask if you’ve ever heard John Cougar Mellencamp’s 1985 hit “Small Town.” I won’t sing it for you either, as the particular brand of sadism required to inflict such pain upon another sentient being’s soul is outside of the scope of my most esoteric kink.

“Small Town” is a disease. Thankfully, there is an antidote. The identically named first track from Lou Reed and John Cale’s 1990 album Songs for Drella cures the sick nostalgia for American small town life that Mellencamp perversely celebrates. The album was written as a tribute to their friend and collaborator Andy Warhol, and depicts the archetypal locale as somewhere one seeks to escape rather than somewhere one would wish to entrench oneself.

When you're growing up in a small town
When you're growing up in a small town
When you're growing up in a small town
You say, "no one famous ever came from here"

When you're growing up in a small town
And you're having a nervous breakdown
And you think that you'll never escape it
Yourself or the place that you live

Where did Picasso come from?
There's no Michelangelo coming from Pittsburgh
If art is the tip of the iceberg
I'm the part sinking below

When you're growing up in a small town
Bad skin, bad eyes, gay and fatty
People look at you funny
When you're in a small town

My father worked in construction
It's not something for which I'm suited
Oh, what is something for which you are suited?
Getting out of here

I hate being odd in a small town
If they stare let them stare in New York City
At this pink eyed painting albino
How far can my fantasy go?

I'm no Dali coming from Pittsburgh
No adorable lisping Capote
My hero, oh, do you think I could meet him?
I'd camp out at his front door

There's only one good thing about small town
There's only one good use for a small town
There's only one good thing about small town
You know that you want to get out

When you're growing up in a small town
You know you'll grow down in a small town
There's only one good use for a small town

You hate it and you'll know you have to leave

Songwriters: John Davies Cale / Lou Reed

Smalltown lyrics © John Cale Music Inc, Sony ATV Music Pub LLC

Writing Lessons

Beatrice doesn’t like to write. Her reading comprehension and retention are high (my scientific assessment), and she is able to discuss what she has read, but actually putting pen to paper to set down her thoughts is a problem for her. She’s blocked, but my opinion is that once she gets over that brick wall the problem will become a thing of the past.

She had a biographical writing assignment to turn in this week, and chose Austrian wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as her subject. My goal this weekend was to focus all of my attention on addressing her attitudinal difficulty with writing and helping her complete the project.

I delineated several objectives, such as acquiring a dedicated writing notebook for her, teaching her the Catholic concept of Imitatio Dei as a foundation for writing and connecting it with the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, and showing her how to write a simple imagist poem in order to make flesh her impressions on any given situation.

But fundamentally I wanted her to accept that the act of writing need not intimidate. My contention is that God spoke everything into existence, and human writings are a feeble attempt at imitation of that primal act of creation. From this perspective, everything we write, all our of imperfect, childish imitations, then, are sacred. Acknowledgement of that at the outset may guide us in our writings. Furthermore, such imitation in the form of art (e.g. drawing, a form she enjoys already, as well as writing and other forms) is quite pleasurable knowing that.

We still have a way to go with all of this, but here is where this expressive tributary in the river of Beatrice’s life begins.

MISERICORDIA

Let this be a prayer for mercy.

For though we do not deserve it, that mercy is only yours to give.

You visited us and left empty-handed again and again.

We ask that you stay away until you mean it.

.

EN ALGUNA PARTE

The air was thick as donut glaze;
     It was about to rain.
The sky was nothing but a haze
     The grasses stood to gain.

Hot and dewy nights like these
     Are few and far between
Somewhere less friendly to fleas,
     Somewhere a bit less green.

.

Late Spring Attempts at Haiku and Senryu

1.

Sultry southern spring

-the golden hour is so long,

drunk on gardenia.

 

2.

Now night has fallen;

-symphony of cicadas-

Half-sky clouds blanket.

 

3.

I know it’s not you,

but both are of one substance.

All are of stars’ atoms.

 

4.

Milder than what’s next,

when the axis tilts sunward:

breath of early June.

 

5.

Bird polyphony:

mind tuned to celestial tones,

we sing morning songs.

 

6.

Cool breeze through the leaves

-all is green; all is verdant.

It’s not yet summer.

 

7.

Lightning bug meets bat:

a swing, a glowing dinger

in humid evening.