Top photo: December 22, 2016; Bottom photo: January 21, 2017
Do you change it? Do you
Leave it the same?
I went running last Saturday afternoon. I couldn’t go in the morning, as I have been recently, because of an ill child and because we needed to eat lunch at 11.30 to get another child to her extra ballet practice. It was because of the ill child and the ballet child that I didn’t march, a trip to London being just too awkward to fit in. I thought that I was okay with that, but as the day progressed — coughing child, breakfast, supermarket, lunch, hour-long wait in the car for ballet child — I felt less and less okay about it, until I felt very un-okay in a frustrated and angry kind of way. Which is where the run came into things.
Chunks of thick broken ice on the boardwalk. Silvered grasses. Pied wagtail. Robin fluttering just ahead of me.
I listened to Michael Silverblatt interviewing Ottessa Moshfegh as I ran (recommended) and then started Rachel Zucker’s interview with Bernadette Mayer before realising that I was so cold that it was time to head home. This week I’ve started reading Mayer’s book length poem, Midwinter Day which fits into the gaps in my day, as I wait for a kettle to boil, or a child to get ready. “I want poetry that contains everything,” I wrote on Instagram & this book is certainly one answer to that desire. My recent morning reading, Solmaz Sharif’s lucid, beautiful, mindfucking, heartbreaking Look, and Kaveh Akbar’s miraculous Portrait of the Alcoholic are other answers, other consolations, other reminders of what wouldn’t be if one man’s vision of America is allowed to prevail.
Last Saturday, as I rounded the top of the nature reserve, I saw the juvenile swan I’ve been watching all summer alone for the first time. His parents, usually fiercely protective, seem to have decided it’s time. There was something both moving & comforting in even this. Now, as the news seems worse and worse each day, it’s hard to believe that all this was only a week ago.
Is reading poetry, writing poetry any kind of defence? The lines from US poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera I quote at the top have stayed with me all week, though my real questions are how do you change it? how can you leave it the same? This brief interview with Herrera, from 2015, consoles me and commits me to reading more poetry that changes me, cracks me open, reveals me to myself as I gain an brief insight into someone else’s truth. To see and be seen, I keep thinking. That would be a start.
“Poetry is one of the largest, most beautiful, most intimate and most effective ways of participating” in public life, he said.
This political potential of poetry isn’t something that’s obvious to everyone, but it is to Herrera himself. “Poetry, as odd as it is, and as hard to figure out as it is, many times, it’s almost something that we’re used to,” Herrera said. “It’s kind of like a dream language that we had centuries ago, so that when we speak poetically, or write a poem about what’s going on, a real difficult issue that’s facing our communities, people listen.” It carries a power that pamphlets and reports cannot, he says.
It’s not that he expects a poem to transform all of society in one sweeping movement. But, “the justice and change probably [comes] in those five seconds where the person gained an insight.”interview with Juan Felipe Herrera, The Guardian, June 2015