Thursday, July 3, 2014

Poetry On The Doorstep

In Charge
Once upon a time, I helped run a writing camp for high school students.  The graduate department where I studied was in charge of the camp and the whole thing was fun fun fun.  We also, for some reason, launched fundraising efforts each year.  I think I'm remembering this correctly.  If not, it's because I want to block out all memories of fundraising because it makes me squeamish and I'm terrible at it, two things that likely go hand in hand.

One year it was decided we would see which among the writing genres was the most generous.  Multiple containers were purchased and each genre was charged with depositing spare change or larger bills into those containers.  The man behind this believed that writers, being a competitive lot, would be shamed into donating more and more money to meet the donations of their peers.  I don't know what world this man came from, besides a hard-working optimistic one, but in my experience writers have never been shamed into parting with their money, mostly because they have so little with which to part.

Joe Bueter: Man of Mystery. And Miracles.

(Young) Joe Bueter
Needless to say, that fundraiser flopped, but some good did come of it, namely, a dark green jug stenciled Poetry across its belly.  This jug I promptly commandeered at the end of the competition and installed on my doorstep.  I meant it as a real invitation: just as I had a mailbox to receive postcards and bills, I had a jug where anyone who wanted to could drop off a poem.  Few friends took me up on the offer, the exception being our saintly friend Joe who supplied us with poems for a good two years. 

As if to prove his saintliness once and for all, the day Tim and I finally moved from town, Joe gathered all the items that did not fit on our moving truck and hauled them away to Goodwill for us.  My lasting memory of leaving Wilmington is of Joe driving away with my rickety old writing chair sticking out his back window.  I lost a good chair that day and also a good deal of cynicism about human beings.

I write all this because Sut Nam Bonsai used to feature a poem in each post.  The poems, combined with my natural wordiness, added up to quite a lot of text and I feared it was just too much.  I came to believe that the people wanted pictures (and I believe I'm correct on this point).  But when I saw this tribute marking Allen Grossman's passing and read the words, "Poetry is a register of the moral order of experience and of the metaphysical order of nature," I felt a twinge of shame that I had let SNB's poetry habit die so quickly, and so quietly to boot. 

Truth be told, I'm no match for the scads of proper poetry websites out there.  I also felt guilty sharing poems without express permission by the writers or their publishers.  It's one thing to copy a poem for a friend and mail it in a letter, but a whole other thing to make it accessible for copying and pasting on the internets.  I dunno.  What do you think?  What I do know is, due to an appreciation for groceries and electricity, SNB's litigation funds run low.

However, that summation of Mr. Grossman's life sobered me and woke me to the pleasures I gave up when I worked full time, when poetry started to feel like a luxury I could not afford.  So, in honor of a man who said, "the principle of poetry is a collective and perpetually renewed act of love," and in honor of the rhythm my life at home once again affords me, here is a poem or part of a poem, from Wendell Berry's The Country of Marriage

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

To the moral order of experience, to you, and your renewing acts of love,

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