Unmade boundaries of acts and poems

I had a long bout of wakefulness last night, but W&L cancels classes on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so I slept until the cold January sun had actually risen, hallelujah. Over my first pot of tea, I picked up a section of Sunday’s paper, and found this article about the amazing playwright, memoirist, and poet Adrienne Kennedy, who in her eighties is still producing strong work. The opening made me laugh out loud:

“The playwright Adrienne Kennedy never wanted to move to Virginia… ‘Unfortunately, I’ve been here six years,’ she said of her new city [Williamsburg]. ‘I hate it.'”

The article also mentioned a new poem of hers that I’d missed–check out “Forget” in The Harvard Review. Major Jackson, I will forgive you for continuing to reject my poems as long as you’re putting Adrienne Kennedy out there once in a while. In “Forget,” she writes of her white grandfather, “like the South itself, he was an unfathomable.” Yes.

I never wanted to move south, either. Lexington makes Williamsburg look urban and hip by comparison. I often feel disconnected from literary conversations that would nourish me; attitudes here towards the Civil War and U.S. history can be both offensive and deeply surreal. But I don’t hate it here. There’s good work to do. My surroundings have beauty. It’s intellectually and artistically useful to be in constant talk with people who don’t share my pieties. And what Kennedy says about getting a lot of writing done  “because there’s nothing to do in Virginia”–well, I laughed with recognition there, too.

And then I bundled up and marched in our local parade, which was peaceful and joyous. And now I’m back to my desk, prepping for classes. My senior seminar on “Documentary Poetics” just finished working through Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead,” which I’d never taught before, but which I will definitely teach again. The title of this post is from the title poem of that series, which you can find here. I’m not entirely sure about the social good poetry does, even poetry of history and witness–compared to more direct kinds of activism, I mean–but I know lines from long ago and far away sustain my courage. I’m endlessly grateful for poetry’s camaraderie.

A few last marching words, from the same Rukeyser poem:

What three things can never be done?
Forget.     Keep silent.     Stand alone.