Thursday, June 14, 2007


Last weekend, I stumbled across a notion for a chapbook collection. Despite the myriad other tasks I could be undertaking, like working on a collection of Texas stories, continuing research into one of the two papers I'd planned to write by summer's end, or submitting the handful of polished poems that haven't already been sent to magazines, I let myself inhabit the imagined life of poor Sandra Edwards. I contemplated the arc of minor and major tragedies that shaped her fictive life. More, I "recovered" a few poems I felt certain would best be left to rot in a cardboard box in the basement. Poems, once soaked in what seemed to me the stench of youth, became, to me at least, far more poignant after the notions they contained had been stripped of the burdensome "I" that strolled through my college and grad school years. I actually liked some of these poems again.

Of course, you should know by now not to trust a poet's thoughts on his most recent work—particularly when the work has yet to be tested by the submission process, but perhaps one day you'll be able to gauge the worth of those poems for yourself.

This morning, with strange dreams, which I'm attributing to reading Foucault before bedtime, rustling in the crevices of my mind, I thought momentarily of returning to those poems and writing a brief narrative of a childhood illness during the late 60s, but my Internet connection is down.

Think about that for a moment.

In high school, when I first started writing something that resembled a poem (think very loose trimeter with an aaaaa rhyme scheme), I had no idea that the Internet even existed. It did, of course, but I'd never seen it. HTML, if it existed, was nothing more than a language for organizing law books, not the ubiquitous and largely invisible grammar that underpins so much of how we now encounter our world.

I wrote those poems on an electric typewriter—one complete with corrective ribbon. Thankfully, not even a single line of those attempts remains.

When I reached college and decided to study Creative Writing, the poems got better, and for reasons I can't completely detail, I started composing all first drafts (and sometimes many more than that) in longhand. Then, when I liked a poem enough, or when one was due for class, I'd type it up in one of the many computer clusters on campus. I didn't own a computer until I reached graduate school when my uncle sent me an archaic PS/1, and even then, I only composed a handful of poems, which were more experimental than my usual fare, onscreen.

Now, by contrast, I write everything on my laptop—from simple missives to friends to notes about poems or stories I plan to write. Hardly a word leaves the recesses of my imagination without the assistance of this computer. This computer is my quill.

I often think, fleetingly, of the way technology intersects with our lives—technologies like the pencil or even language itself. I wander at how so many of us, particularly in the "Western" world are so utterly divorced from what was once, for thousands of years, our only means of survival. We do not reap what we sow. We reap what has been sown for us, sometimes thousands upon thousands of miles away. The complexity of such arrangements, given how our ancestors lived a scant 200 years ago, is utterly mind boggling.

How many hundreds of people must work to ensure that I can savor a single Chilean grape on a December day?

So many technologies have been, I suppose, absorbed by our flexible natures. Our minds, I suspect, work differently (not necessarily better) than those of our ancestors. How does my life, here under the shade of a sweet gum tree, differ from the lives lived by John Clare, Leigh Hunt, or Letitia Elizabeth Landon?

How do the lives of my readers differ from the readers they sought?

For a moment, my Internet connection was up again. I could look up, in seconds, representative poems of the Romantics above. I felt, in a peculiar way, properly connected to the world. I could have done, in a few minutes time, research enough to make write a believable account of a childhood illness when we had fewer vaccinations. I could have figured out the title of a brilliant book by Walter Ong, S.J. that discusses differences in the way oral, typographic, and secondary oral cultures use language.

Alas, my Internet connection, for the moment, is as tenuous as the life of a secondary character in a murder mystery. Though, at some point today, I hope, it will be restored. The world as I experience it will be returned to order. I will feel connected again. I will allow myself to be, uniquely, a poet of the 21st century, leveraging myriad peculiar technologies to write poems in our own peculiar way.

Still, I doubt I'll ever lose this niggling desire to imitate, in my own small way, the poems of John Clare.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home