|Flicker, July 2011|
Also, aren't the hellish things so easy to spot that it's like shooting fish in a barrel? How much insight is required to conclude that war is unpleasant? (Yet we seem to enjoy war, going back, as we do, for seconds and hundredths . . .).
Also, in most parts of the world, at most points in history, aren't the uplifting (including comic) things almost as evident as the dark stuff? So I doubt I'm ever satisfied with art that doesn't see both (or all) sides.
Of course there's also the fact that darker art, if it's beautifully constructed, takes steps toward redeeming even the ugliest subject matter. That's a big part of my reasoning when I ask poetry to offer gifts along the way, such as skillful, inventive phrasing and compelling imagery. A decent poem offers those, no matter how unoriginally grim its outlook.
I think other English majors—especially the cool ones, if there were any—thought, “Quaint little New Englander popping perky rhymed ditties in the attic.” Or later as a young teacher, I wondered, “How am I going to sell Dickinson as a skillful, complex, deep, disturbing, mind-expanding poet students should care about?” Or, “Emily Dickinson: one of the many hip, cool, money poets acting like an LSD drop, she rode a Harley with Cummings, Bukowski, and Ferlinghetti. Well, maybe not." How was I going to argue she wasn’t the founding editor of saccharine Hallmark greeting cards?”
*A Bird came down the Walk (328) by Emily DickinsonA Bird came down the Walk—He did not know I saw—He bit an Angleworm in halvesAnd ate the fellow, raw,And then he drank a DewFrom a convenient Grass—And then hopped sidewise to the WallTo let a Beetle pass—He glanced with rapid eyesThat hurried all around—They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—He stirred his Velvet HeadLike one in danger, Cautious,I offered him a CrumbAnd he unrolled his feathersAnd rowed him softer home—Than Oars divide the Ocean,Too silver for a seam—Or Butterflies, off Banks of NoonLeap, plashless as they swim.