How I’m Processing These Times

Many of my friends on social media  have said they were nauseous after the #RNCinCL ended. In spite of having  a two-day headache, I have been reading articles about the orange real estate tycoon, watching Bill Maher (whose opinions I don’t always agree with, especially his puerile views about religion), Steven Colbert, Jon Stewart, and other satirical videos, including this gem by Randy Rainbow, Ya got Trump Trouble!

In an effort to stop my incessant preoccupation with the rhetoric of hatred, I’m taking this online MOOC, Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster . The course is taught by University of Iowa professors Ed Folsom and Christopher Merrill. We are reading Whitman’s war poems and some of his prose writing and responding with both discussion comments and original work.

I want to write about my father’s death, the loss that is so immediate to me,  but I need to connect his dying  to these times we are living in: mass shootings in night clubs, elementary schools, and movie theaters, terrorist attacks overseas, the brutality of police toward Black citizens, the deaths of Anton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Eric Gardner… (the list is too long), the ugly rhetoric of ignorant white supremacists, an arena full of people chanting for the imprisonment of the former Secretary of State.

Whitman wrote for everyone, for all of America. He recognized himself in the fallen soldier, the nurse, the mother saying goodbye to her son.

As a white woman in living the 21st century, how can I recognize myself in the bile coming from the mouths of Trump and his followers? Will I recognize myself in the bodies of Black men left to bleed on the street? To be truly honest with ourselves and to show true compassion, we have to know that we are all interconnected. There is no Us versus Them.

While it comes naturally to me to empathize with the plight of many Black people, I won’t be honest until I look deeply into the hatred coming from a fairly sizable chunk of the white population. Is there any way to transcend this hatred? Poetry and art might be the bridge.

 

Hike: A Noiseless Patient Spider With Turkey Buzzards

Today’s hike was Pigeon Hill trail in Kennesaw. I only did half the hike today because I got a late start. To the visitor’s center from Burnt Hickory Road is 2.5 miles (five miles there and back), but I stopped at Little Kennesaw and turned around so that I would have time to meet my friends for a poetry reading.

Today is Walt Whitman’s 195th birthday, and to honor his poetry some Poetry Atlanta folks have organized a non-stop reading of all 52 songs from Song of Myself.

I was thinking of Whitman as I picked my way across boulders and rocks toward the summit. When I sat on a lichen-covered ledge to take a rest in the shade, a tiny red spider floated in the air next to me, spinning an invisible thread that helped it move up and down, and I remembered Whitman’s poem, “A Noiseless Patient Spider.”
A NOISELESS, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

***

I wish I could experience the same confidence Whitman exudes in the capability of his soul. That’s why I go hiking and meditate, swim in open bodies of water, practice yoga. It’s a path outward that circles inward. Today I felt like most at peace watching the turkey buzzards circling the tree tops, until one swooped close, it’s red face angled toward some dead creature.

 

Walt Whitman and Burst!

On Saturday evening my husband and I went to a Vietnamese restaurant in Midtown, drank a few beers and ate crispy tofu (that was me, he had calamari), and then went on to a reading of Song of Myself by Walt Whitman. I’m so grateful my husband came along with me, because he rarely attends poetry-related events. He had a good time, in spite of missing the basketball playoffs.

Poet and novelist Collin Kelley, the third reader of the evening, timed us – it took two hours and 45 minutes to read the entire 52 sections. And honestly, I didn’t notice time passing at all. It was breathtaking to listen to all the different interpretations of Whitman’s words. We were a wide sweep of humanity, reflecting the broad scope of the poem. Some of the readers were professional actors or spoken-word performers, such as Alice Lovelace and Theresa Davis. Professor and poet Karen Head was there, poet and artist Cleo Creech, Amy Pence, Tania Rochelle, and many others. It was quite an honor and a true pleasure to be included.

Poet Rupert Fike was the organizer and host of the reading, a charming prince of a man. He wore a black beret and a black shirt trimmed with a rust-colored Native American pattern, looking very much the poet that he is. The walls were lined with the stunning black and white photos now featured at Composition Gallery. I’m going to return to the gallery another time when the room isn’t so full to get a better look at the works.

walt-whitman-night

I’m standing in front, wearing cerise slacks. Karen Head is next to me, in a robin’s egg blue blouse. Cleo Creech is kneeling next to Alice Lovelace, who is wearing a green dress, Amy Pence is to Cleo’s left, and Collin is wearing a black T-shirt, standing behind Cleo. Rupert Fike is in the very back, his face hidden. You can just spot the tip of his beret. Robert Wood, whose poems have been in the first two issue of ouroboros and are forthcoming in the third, is in the back too. He has white hair and a white beard, looking like Whitman himself.

***

I just received word that three of my poems are now online at Burst! Here’s a direct link to the poems, which are titled Degrees of Separation, Dr. Marano’s Therapy, and Sacred Fig Rites. Thanks to editor Lisa Nickerson for publishing my work.

Here’s a list of the other poets who are included in this issue, issue 5:

David Garrett-Arnold, John Gray, BC Jewett, Michael Brownstein, Stuart Payne ,Joseph Trombatore, Rob Gannon, Jeremi Handrinos, David Robertson, Catherine Zickgraf, RC Miller.


Walt Whitman's 190th Birthday Celebration

Poetry Atlanta is hosting a marathon reading of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself this Saturday night, and I’m going to be one of the readers, thanks to poet Rupert Fike, who organized us. The reading will take place at composition gallery, which I’ve never visited. I’m looking forward to a double dose of art – poetry and photography. Collin Kelley and Karen Head will be reading, and many other well-known Atlanta poets, a real treat for me, and an honor too, since I’m a poetry scrub.

Of course I take my assignment seriously, and have been reading Song of Myself aloud, trying to let the whole of it soak into my skin. There are 52 sections. I will be reading sections 35 and 36, a kind of story within a story, as the speaker relates a naval battle in the voice of his great grandfather.

What strikes me about Walt Whitman is how enlightened his words are, and how ahead of his times he was, or maybe I shoud say out of time. He had a view that physicists are only now beginning to understand, of the interrelatedness of the universe. Song of Myself, in the very singing of it, is a song to all creation. It’s an attempt to sing the world, and it comes pretty darn close.

Whitman’s language is at once familiar and curious to me. I’ve made a wordle of the words that struck my fancy last night.

picture-51