Saturday, August 6, 2011

Planning a Poetry Reading on the Day After the World Ends

So, while a group of us celebrated a friend's completion of her Ed.D. degree, and then I slept peacefully through the night, the S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating. I read the news this morning, and I thought, well, we've heard these rumblings with their apocalyptic overtones for several weeks now. And one of the worst case scenarios has happened.

I almost expected to see smoking ruins when I looked out the window this morning. But the world looks fairly normal.

I realize, of course, that when various markets across the world open beginning some time Sunday night, we might find out that we really are hurtling into the abyss.  Or maybe nothing will happen.  These days, it's hard to tell.

In the meantime, life goes on.  For those of you who are saying, "Hey, you, give us some comfort," I'd direct you to this post on my theology blog.  It contains my thoughts, some links to other great blog posts of comfort, and a poem that reminds us that times that seem like we'll remember them as the darkest may actually be high points in our life.

Or go to this post of Jeannine's to focus on the good writing news of various poets that deserve celebrating.  Hurrah for Karen J. Weyant (and her great book title, Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, winner of the Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest); hurrah for Rachel Dacus who has just signed with Kitsune Books.

Or come out this afternoon to a poetry reading at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale at 4:00 p.m.  Sure, we might have the remnants of Tropical Storm Emily passing us then, but what's a little rain?  You can drink wine or excellent coffee drinks.  You can enjoy the works of 3 poets who are so similar and so different.

I'm one of those poets, and I'm still in the final planning stages of deciding what to read.  As with last time, I think I'll read a few poems from my first chapbook and a few from my second.  I only have about 12-15 minutes, so I won't be reading too many poems.

Last time I made my reading decisions based on which poems I thought were best, a time-honored way of deciding what to read.  But as much as I love some of those poems for their approach to language, their symbolism, their word play, the subject matter can be difficult.  I'm thinking of "Scout at Midlife," which returns to the world of To Kill a Mockingbird, where we discover that Atticus, he of the magnificent legal mind and moral compass, has Alzheimer's.  I could see from the faces at the reading that the poem was indeed effective--but very painful to hear.  More and more, I am surrounded by people who are watching their loved ones struggle with this disease.  As does my very own beloved grandma--her lucidity comes and goes, and I know there are times when she has no idea who I am. 

It's very strange.  For years, I thought my grandma didn't know who I was because she didn't understand me or my generation.  But she knew more than I was willing to give her credit for knowing.  And I was young, with that arrogance that comes from being 19 years old.  And now I'm older, and it's so very unsettling to be with her when she literally does not know who I am.  I can see how my poem would be hard for people who are living with that situation more closely than I am; I only see my grandmother a few times a year, if that.  As my job circumstances tighten, it's been less, as it's harder to get away.  Now is not a good time to look dispensable in the workplace.

In a week of dreadful news, in a summer of grinding disagreement, I've decided to choose my poems that are most hopeful and most humorous.  I'm not choosing lesser poems, not by any means.  But I'm keeping the subject matter upbeat.

We're surrounded by doom and gloom.  I can't watch the news at all anymore, and even National Public Radio is proving too much for me on some days.  At work, I'm surrounded by people who are convinced we're on the road to hell. At work, I'm surrounded by people who are convinced that we're already there. Very few optimistic people in my workplace these days.  And I think my workplace is a microcosm of the larger world.

And here I thought I would need to change careers to be a hospice chaplain!

Yet I can't quite shake the thought that maybe some of us are taking a bit too much delight in our gloomy moods.  I can't quite shake the feeling that we're wallowing in our pessimism.

No, I am part of several traditions that remind me of my moral duty to be a person of hope and resurrection.  You can dismiss me as a goofy Christian if you like, but I would also argue that as poets and writers, we have a duty and a calling to envision a different world, a better world.  As people who have more than other people, we have a duty to remind the world of what the world could be.  I would say that one of the great contributions that the U.S. has made to the world is the idea of a nation where we can achieve whatever we want to achieve if we just put our minds to it.

Hush.  Do not tell me that those days when anything was possible, that those days are behind us.  They are not.  Out of times of great turmoil, a better world often emerges.  The world needs change agents now more than ever.  Can poets and poems be those change agents?  Can change begin in the cradle of one poetry reading?  Am I being preposterously grandiose?

1 comment:

Sandy Longhorn said...

Wonderful post, Kristin. Good luck this afternoon. Wish I could be there.