Saturday, June 5, 2010

Poems, Chiefly Purgative

If only to keep my own ego under as many wraps as possible, I long ago began to study the process of rejoicing in, and promoting, the virtues of other people's talents and accomplishments. I have to be honest and admit that this sometimes required a deliberate act of the will and did not always arise with spontaneous generosity. I would discern certain motions of envy within myself and then get on with the appreciation and the praise, simply because I had the grace to realize that a little pain now was a lot better than the lingering resentment that would later follow not taking these steps. Being a quick study with bookish things - except Latin and Chemistry - I rarely had the chance to practice such common sense in academic matters, but it came up often in sports when I was in elementary and high school, and then, as if these instances were merely warm-ups for the more significant future, it really blossomed at university when I discovered that a couple of very good college journalist friends of mine were absolutely brilliant at writing satirical songs and created a duo that left no room for me except as an appreciator, and eventually something of a promoter, inasmuch as I could also perform the songs once I learned half-a-dozen chords on the ukulele. And of course, once I continued a little further in the necessary business of growing older and wiser, I realized that for all that I liked a good joke, and more and more understood the divinely appointed office of the court jester, the heart of my calling was in the epic and romantic, which on fretted instruments comes out in the folk songs. And ultimately in liturgical music, especially chant.
So, it was decades ago, with utterly no vision then of the practical future, that I was schooled to deal with the question that is before us now: my own personal presentation and promotion of Marianne's sudden explosion into a consistent flow of utterly wonderful short lyrics. As John of the Cross says in his preface to The Living Flame, even after we are so lucky as to land in the Seventh Mansion, we can still improve, still find things to sweep out of the spiritual closets left by original sin. Yes, I can hold my head up by admitting that I can come up with an image or two as sharply incisive as the kid's; I just can't find a plot for it, and as Aristotle said, plots matter. Her plots are magnificent in their brief intensity, like the javelin style prayers hurled by the old desert monks of Egypt.
People who are not poets or creative writers, of course, are not really bothered by this problem of  "what about me?" when they come upon great writing. They can just appreciate the God-given skill and let its blessings flow over them. But we are bugged by activity in what we consider our own back yard, our turf, until we get the large view, and see where the new kid on the block fits into the overall design.
As a person, of course, as a contemplative, our humble cook, house manager, and in-house doctor has always fit into the overall design impeccably. God never charted a human course with more precision and spiritual efficiency. I suppose part of that plan was keeping the talent of the poet hidden from everyone except me, and occasionally, a bishop or a pope. But the Net has sent her forth into the world, and the world, or at least that part of it that can take such an intense spirit, will only be the better for it.
This post has been percolating for some time, of course, but it could not come out this way until I noticed, a few weeks ago, that not only had the Ranger become noticed in Russia, but the fiction that has found its way to it was also being read there. When I happily told Shawn this, she wondered out loud how the computer translation facilities would handle my idioms.
My immediate reaction to this was that of the completely unaware, so-called, theologian. "I don't write idiomatically," I said.
She laughed. (She laughs a lot.Especially at my not infrequent pronouncements.)
I thought about it, and realized that I am actually relentless in using the idioms of my culture. Thus, for my beloved friends in Russia, let me say that when I was high school, when my wife was in high school, we had a volume of poetry called Poems, Chiefly Narrative. They were good stuff, largely, but as I was to learn from A.E. Housman decades later, so much of British education had been aimed at making good little servants for the British East India Company, and in those days, the tail end of the Stalinist era, good little Canadian students were still under the influence of such empire building.
Thus the genesis of my title for the mystic's poesy.
So now, what to do with promotion? Her blog title, From George, gets drowned by other Georges. George Bush, George Cloony, Lake George, and so on. This she determined last night. On the other hand, when she Googled the title of one of her latest poems, Mary Magdalene, she was fifth on the list, and wonderfully content. So should have been the reader who found it.
It was in my last year of ordinary pedagogy that she became my apprentice. Then, this was for the sake of theology, mysticism, and, I thought, perhaps for a short story career. She had written an awfully good one, with myself starring as the adult protagonist, a credit to an mature professional, let alone a twelve-year-old. But that success was never repeated, except in a minor way in our two bouts of correspondence.
But the poems, of course, are also stories, and stand on their own, without the director-client relationship to give them a meaningful structure. An interesting shift, and one I would not want to be without. Poetry rarely meets the peak of the spiritual life, outside the Scriptures, and when it does, as in the case of John of the Cross, I don't think anyone would think of those verses standing alone. They were most fundamentally written for the sake of the commentaries, which is by far their most valuable reason for existence.
I suspect that we have a sui generis, and note should be taken by more than our beloved bishop, John Corriveau, ofm cap, although we gratefully recognize that he is by no means your average cleric, and, probably, bishop.

2 comments:

cabbage ears said...

I also love her photo...and she does not curry favour, she speaks from her sensible heart...and soul.

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