Trying to teach Robert Hayden on Friday, I had such a mother of a hot flash that my glasses fogged up. I’m not sure my students even noticed. We were discussing Hayden’s complicated elegy for Malcolm X, a small star releasing its own fire, and the seminar is full of canny astronomers with their own strong opinions and expertise. On the whole, it felt like a good space in which to vent the engines–for them, I hope, as well as for me.
I probably won’t blow–my inner Scotty has always been an alarmist–but the past few weeks have certainly been a test. I feel terrible, but not surprised, that after his public temper tantrum of privilege challenged, Kavanaugh is about to join the nation’s highest court. I feel terrible, but not surprised, at how some of my students feel unheard and disrespected on my own campus, which continues to be roiled by arguments over its racist history. And I feel sick about irreparable harms to immigrant children, voting rights, and the more-than-human world that sustains us despite our poisonings. The damage feels so massive–and so gleefully perpetrated–that it’s hard to know where to stand while voicing your own small resistance.
Literature sustains me more than anything else–reading it, teaching it, editing it. Less so writing it, in October, but I’ll get back to drafting someday, and in the meantime I’m trying to keep serving the writing by handling proofs and edits of articles, interviews, and poems in a timely way, plus keeping work under submission. My inner Mr. Spock, that is, keeps the priorities rational and the ship on course, knowing I’m precariously low on fuel. AWP labors dominate this weekend, and I’ll be attending my last AWP board meeting as a trustee next weekend (San Antonio), although I’m on the search committee for a new executive director and that work will continue for months yet. My work for the AWP has felt useful and important, but I’m ready to turn to other modes of literary service. Beth Staples has now appointed me Poetry Editor of Shenandoah, which honestly is a role I don’t feel quite deserving of yet, and hence I’ve been shy about announcing–but I’m working hard and learning a ton from her and also from the great teacher that is the submissions pile, so full speed ahead, I guess, on this little enterprise through which maybe I can help do some good.
I’ll probably skip next week’s blog post–lots of grading to do on the plane–but I’ll leave you with a Hayden poem my students loved, even though including it here means screwing up its spacing (see the link for a broadside version). Some took it as a meditation on self-care for activists. Also, here’s “American Incognitum,” kindly featured by Cold Mountain Review in its special issue on extinction. And last comes another poem of mine, one with an angrier or more desperate tone, with thanks to the Cimarron Review. The italics aren’t quite right but the gist still comes through, I think. I wish it weren’t so timely. Here’s hoping you can find solace and/or solidarity in art you love, because we’re going to have to hold it together, crew.
Today as the news from Selma and Saigon
poisons the air like fallout,
I come again to see
the serene, great picture that I love.
Here space and time exist in light
the eye like the eye of faith believes.
The seen, the known
dissolve in iridescence, become
illusive flesh of light
that was not, was, forever is.
O light beheld as through refracting tears.
Here is the aura of that world
each of us has lost.
Here is the shadow of its joy.
(because compost happens)
The work wants to be made
Writing from both sides of the brain
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Into one's life a little poetry must fall