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Seeing Clearly / Brief Essay To Go Along With Selections
“Forever is composed of nows,” Emily Dickinson wrote in a letter.
“Now”: the moment as a tunnel within a tunnel within a tunnel, ad infinitum. The mole’s passageway within the earth, the worm’s passageway within the mole’s, the ant’s passageway within the worm’s, moisture’s route intersecting with the ant’s, the hydrogen atom tunneling inside this intersection, the electron tunneling inside the hydrogen atom and . . .
Now contains, if not infinity itself, then a type of infinite: planet and universe teeming with quadrillions of simultaneities at any particular moment in time.
This reality sheds light on what the writer can write about. Anything. And any combination of anythings. Nothing is an “impossible” subject. Nothing is “out of line.” Nothing is “unrelated.”
Many U.S. poets’ aversion to addressing political subjects in their works is symptomatic not of their transcendence over the alleged unworthiness of political themes in high art, but rather of their fear of full immersion in the world of possible subjects available to them.
The teeming world. They want to tame it, teach it to heel. Their poems aren’t poems, they’re dog leashes.
Such poets write an anal poetry. They ritualistically gather into little groups or schools or writing programs in order to hammer out the details of the form of self-censorship that is most useful to their particular group.
In my own work I have tried, and continue to try, to do more than this. In my poetry I’ve attempted to get at a wider-ranging group of themes and in my prose I’ve explored the social/cultural reasons for the power of diminished thought and imagination. I’m not so arrogant to think of myself as alone in these efforts. One doesn’t get anywhere without learning from others.
Of the many people who’ve inspired me over the years, at the moment I think of these with special fondness. Saxophone-bearing Joy Haro cuts through walls with whatever tools are available to her in order to get at truth. James Wright, who died in 1980, uncovered stunning lyricisms through his often painful empathies. Sonia Sanchez has been on fire her whole life and not one word of hers is a dying ember, they all still burn. Also, although writing in India in Marathi so that his poems are only available in translation, Namdeo Dhasal work has shown me the way as much as any writer in the U.S. And then there’s Sharon Doubiago whose epics and other works are an ongoing testament to the fact that down-to-earth but nonetheless transcendent writing is possible.
We're all in this together. No one is alone.