One Thing I’ve Learned – Bill Brown
Issue 51 contributor Bill Brown writes about staying amazed with the world.
Keep the child inside, honor words that emerge from silence, never stop being amazed at the natural world.
With so much cynicism in the world today, one thing I’ve learned is the writer can’t afford to lose contact with the child inside. If the poet is not amazed at the world, how can she convince her readers to be? This is not an easy task. The rush of news in a media driven society—drones kill innocent citizens while attempting to wipe out terrorist, suicide bombers murder pilgrims in Mosques, middle class Americans, armed with attack weapons, kill fellow citizens on college campuses, in movie theaters and at a Sikh House of Worship. All of these reports grouped together with who got kicked off of Dancing with the Stars. How do we, how do our children, process this information?
The grand old poet, Stanley Kunitz, wrote “in a murderous time, the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking.” Yet Kunitz knelt in his garden, hands in dirt to bring the miracle of plant growth from the soil. In “Touch Me” he writes: “I kneeled to the crickets trilling/underfoot as if about/to burst from their crusty shells;/ and like a child again/ marveled to hear so clear/and brave a music pour…” In “Passing Through” a poem on the occasion of his 79th birthday, Kuntiz says to his wife “Whatever you choose to claim/of me is always yours;/ nothing is truly mine/ except my name. I only/ borrowed this dust.”
The 13th century poet, Rumi, said “The news we hear is full of grief for that future, but the real news inside here is there’s no news at all.” How does the writer reach that still quiet voice inside that so many religions and philosophies honor? Whether you are religious or a back-sliding agnostic like me doesn’t matter. In Hayden Carruth’s poem about aging, he realized that his irreligion didn’t keep him from prayer and that his prayers written down became poems. Wendell Berry writes in his poem, “How To Be A Poet,” “Accept what comes from silence./ Make the best you can of it./ Of the little words that come/ out of the silence, like prayers/ prayed back to the one who prays…” At sixty-three it is deeply important for me to lead a prayerful life. It helps me pay attention, whether it’s spying a string of red ear turtles sunning on a log on Sulfur Fork Creek, or imagining dark matter dancing the continuous unfolding of creation. How can one not be amazed at this life experience, this gift?
The poet Ruth Stone, whose life was often difficult, said in an interview with Poets and Writers, “You have to allow yourself to take joy. Otherwise, you are no good to anyone.” I add: especially to those you love. In Maxine Kumin’s poem, “Women and Horses” she writes: “After Auschwitz…after Vietnam, after Korea, Kuwait, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan./After the Towers. This late in the life of our haplessly orbiting world/ let us celebrate whatever scraps the muse, that naked child,/ can pluck from the still smoldering dumps.”
In Frost’s deeply transient poem, “Directive,” he ends with the children’s house of make believe and the real house gone, “only a belilaced cellar hole.” He goes on to say that near a brook so near its source “I have kept hidden in the instep arch/Of an old cedar at the waterside/ A broken drinking goblet like the Grail…(I stole the goblet from the children’s playhouse.)/ Here are your waters and your watering place./ Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.” I have always taken this ending as advice to younger poets, drink from the source, keep the child inside, the house of make believe. Make: construct, create. Believe: accept as true.
In one of my new poems, “Post Contemporary Romanticism,” published in the current online journal Still, the Journal, I think the last two stanzas punctuate what I’ve tried to say in this babbling blog:
In my writing class
a young girl fancies herself a poet like Keats.
I watch her compose, wording down the page.
She stops, shrugs shoulders, shakes head.
(Parts of her brain are talking; perhaps her
seat of emotions advises her frontal lobe.)
A light bulb turns on, she smiles and is
at it again with more intensity.
If you think
the Age of Miracles is past, or the title
of this poem seems an oxymoron—
pay attention—in this broken human world,
small miracles still emerge before us,
even amidst the quicksand of vanity,
all is vanity, even cynicism, even sorrow.
Bill Brown just retired as a part-time lecturer at Vanderbilt University. He has authored five poetry collections, three chapbooks and a textbook. His three current collections are The News Inside (Iris Press 2010), Late Winter (Iris Press 2008) and Tatters (March Street Press 2007). Recent work appears in Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Tar River Poetry, English Journal, Southern Poetry Review, Connecticut Review, Atlanta Review, Asheville Poetry Review, and Southern Humanities Review. Brown wrote and co-produced the ITV series, Student Centered learning for Nashville Public Television, and has been the recipient of many poetry fellowships.