Two Cruelties

My friend Alexey repeated for me once the idea that art used to be an escape from the horror of life but now it is an escape from the boredom of life. This morning I composed a particularly bothered poem about what yesterday turned out to be a very hard day: Visiting an obese podiatrist in the rain (I forgot my wallet twice, containing ID, insurance card), driving to Lowe’s in the rain on Lili’s behalf with a list of quarrelsome questions for an elusive underling in a face mask who wouldn’t answer the phone to save a life, and a reading on Zoom to the musical score of Omi screaming in the bedroom.

In contrast to art as an escape, the escapism of popular fiction, say, I have inherited the notion of literature as mimesis, a representation of the real, and therefore a confrontation with reality rather than an escape from it. That said, I can acknowledge that this notion may be a privileged one, which may even derive from the boredom, or excess of energies, Alexey was talking about. So, bring on the horror, I guess, because art is no longer an escape from it.

Yes, all good, and yet reality is multiplicitous. Our choice of subject matter is formative. Is there an ethics at play here alongside the aesthetics? We choose the particular reality we want to re-present and abide in (or by?) for a time with our readers. I always think of Mary Oliver’s statement in “Singapore” about this very problem: “A poem should always have birds in it.” Very decisive. And Donald Revell’s idea of paradise. Birds of paradise, our poems, The Good and The Beautiful. Are they an escape from horror? Boredom?

After yesterday with its disheartening paroxysms of rain, Independence Missouri has brightened and all the water that fell is rising is fragrancing the air. A part of me would love nothing better than to relish this weather outside on the back deck with my notebook ecstatically ablaze but hey, been there done that: I doubt the poetic result of such an impulse toward nature would differ in any considerable way from Mary Oliver’s. Or Van Gough’s, for that matter (finished At Eternity’s Gate on Netflix last night).

My apple tree is blossoming but whatever I do with that has to be complicated in order to be taken seriously by genocide, say, or terminal brain cancer (my wheelhouse).

You are, I think, allowed to be bored by this photograph, even though I had to stand on an overturned bucket to take it.

Where does that leave us? The conclusion seems to be compromise, always compromise, and negotiation. Franz Wright gives us in Walking to Martha’s Vineyard our nature image fix but in conjunction with (I paraphrase) listening to a mother describe what it’s like to shoot up with a baby in your arms. An exploded Romanticism that gives us what we demand, for beauty is an astonishingly human demand, while reminding us of the other thing. Here I am in my 2019 collection Terminal Destination (green marker in the margin Theo’s contribution; it’s his copy):

There it is, the horror and the beauty side by side, juxtaposed.

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