Feb 11, 2011


Nomad Exquisite by Wallace Stevens : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

I realize how long this is, and I'm embarrassed. Over the next two or three days, I'll post it in smaller sections, but I'll leave the whole here today for those who prefer their punishment in one sitting. So here we go . . .

Recently the blogger at Brenda’s Arizona (http://arizonabren.blogspot.com/) mentioned that two days after her beloved Packers won the Super Bowl, she was finishing Steve Martin’s new novel. She found it good in its own right; however, because it deals with painting, she also ended up reflecting on art and the possibility of different kinds of art in dialogue with each other. Maybe it was that suggestion of conversation that made her remember Steve Martin’s banjo skill as a kind of music her father loved. She mentioned all this to her husband and their several rescue dogs.

Robert Frost wrote, “how way leads on to way.” Sports, literature, art, music and their personal associations—don't they create especially fertile ground for the kind of achievable saturation in a life well-lived? A lot if it is luck, but we can create paths that help luck find us, and one step is simply hanging around good writing, music, art, nature (including science), and the people who love them--friends and any family who aren’t biting for the moment.

In Wallace Stevens’ “Nomad Exquisite,” the poet finds a promising inroad to luck in a Florida that's all green, and gold and green, in a “big-finned palm,” in “immense dew” and a “young alligator.” Gerard Manley Hopkins finds it in a soaring, then diving falcon, while Keats drifts into the song of a nightingale and a Grecian urn. These were Gifts some poets found; they passed them on to us.

So am I just perverse and combative in wondering why and how so many bloggers, poets, artists, musicians and music lovers, walkers in nature, athletes and fans can find what they need, while so many among the political conservatives cannot be satisfied unless they’re fighting or exploiting someone?

Redefining wealth along the lines of birds and football and nature walks is fundamental to a wiser, kinder humanity. Yes, we need food, shelter, etcetera before we can care about Beethoven or Steven Martin’s banjo. But get real. Even in the wake of a financial crisis, hundreds of millions of Westerners—the vast majority—have plenty of food and shelter. In fact, referring to their possessions, their stuff as mere “food and shelter” is offensive; it trivializes those who actually are in dire straits.

Yet so many are smiling, thoughtless ravagers and hoarders who hide under the euphemism of “capitalism” and snarl with fear that some disadvantaged group is even hungrier and angrier and will come take away a cubit of their pile of stuff. How ironic it is that it’s groups of their own—bankers, brokers, not the smelly downtrodden--who will creep in at night to steal their stuff.

If this is a brotherhood of tea-loving hoarders, surely their most peculiar members are those plastic straws on Main Street who suck on Glen Beck’s Mindless Milkshakes.

Well, that was a self-indulgent sentence, I admit. But how am I to comprehend Reagan Republicans in modest bungalows and apartments who surely cannot answer what Reaganomics ever did for them. “If I make 30K for a family of five, I need more. I know! I’ll help make the obscenely rich richer; that will trickle down to me. You know, the way it did at Enron.”

I submit that CBRs (the Cheyney-Bush-Rove disciples) need a new heart, the kind that’s more than an organ. Along with the crackhead Dons of Wall Street, most were born into every advantage offered by the wealthiest society on the planet. But they wanted more.

TG&S! (TheseGuys&Sarah!) don’t settle for little . . . Gifts . . . like poems or music or art or hillsides. They want kingdoms, or at least BFFs (Big Forever Fiefdoms). The many Bible-Thumpers among them surely wink or take strange medicine as they dare to claim they want their BFF as a feature of Christianity, which to a minority is a code that celebrates modesty, humility, obedience, and purity of spirit.

Somehow along the way, TG&S! didn’t get theirs. With a bounty on their tables, they’re mysteriously hungry, angry, and pathologically competitive. Don't you dare call that healthy ambition. Don’t you dare extol that as an absence of welfare laziness. You know perfectly well it goes way beyond that, eating anything in its path.

My beef is that I’m sick of not understanding, not even imagining, a scenario that explains such hyper-focused, rapacious Me-ism. I’m sick of not getting it. TG&S!, I don’t want your moronic hoarded stuff; I want to know what makes you tick. Of course, what would I do with that information--go fall on my sword?

I guess I’m being downright quaint to wonder if a good passage of poetry or thirty minutes a day with Earl Scruggs or Beethoven or Buddha or film of the Packers' training camp, where it's more about skill than vanquishing . . . I'm peculiar to wonder if those might have been The Gift that slaked their thirst.

So what might have worked? 72 virgins? Hell, give ‘em 73. I’ll pay for that last one if it’ll make them retreat to their mansions, put away their guns, and shut up. But I don’t count on any of that—these guys need something they didn’t get, and they don't know what it is any more than I do, but it’s bigger than a virgin, bigger than a breadbox. There’s a hole in the middle of them, and they can’t fill it up.

So let’s return to the fact that much of our culture is rich with Gifts that weren’t stolen from Grandma’s pension. Banjos. Parks to walk in. Games to play or watch. Paintings and Poems? They might disturb us internally. In fact, they should; they cause troubling self-examination. But that means they challenge us to do better, too see both ecstasy and injustice better than we did-- and they comfort us in our failures. None of that has anything to do with exploiting others to gather more trinkets for our pile of stuff—unless you count our books.

So let’s go give ourselves some cheap, invaluable Gifts—gifts we can quote or hum or envision because somebody else has been better than we are at expression; somebody else has been exquisite here and there. Try to share this with those poor CheyneyBushRove boys down the street, for they are victims—someone ripped out the middle of them, and they want to rip back.

And don’t forget cuddly Rush and puffy Glen. They never intended to hate everyone and everything that doesn’t gleam like chrome, to sell fear and hatred like two flavors of popcycle. They just don’t know any better; the carny act is their only skill. They don’t understand grace or passion. If the goal is not acquisitive, they don’t get it; concepts like “Enough” are too lofty for a whole lot of people.

Therefore, some of them incline toward weeping. You know, if you cry a lot, you must be sad, and Sad is just the other side of Mad—even in Congress, even on TV.

Maybe I should compose country music about all this. And, imploring the hillbilly Muse, I could quote Wallace Stevens, for poems don’t plead for money and mansion. Instead they beg from gods in swamps: “in me, come flinging/Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames.”

When a song works, it blows off the top of your head. Emily Dickinson said so. Yet songs and poems are cheap, and you don’t need to beat up on anybody. You go there to be conquered.

Nomad Exquisite by Wallace Stevens : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.


Anonymous said...

I suppose this is your idea of a telegram.

Banjo52 said...

Great zinger, Hiker. Thanks! I could explain, but it might take longer than the post itself.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

did you catch my link?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

ok. Now I've made it through your telegram and must agree that this is "NOT" the expected deconstruction of Steven's Nomad Exquisite. and I'm happy about that.

great post. I'm ready to go out and kick some TG&S butt. Metaphorically speaking of course

Banjo52 said...

PA, thanks. Metaphors are good for something.

I did check your link. It's a big topic. On the one hand, writers and artists can be great helps to each other. I hate to think of the isolation Emily Dickinson's (tho' there's a new take on that, I guess--I intend to read the new biography). On the other hand, writing, in the end, is a solitary business. One needs trustworthy proofers and advisers, but I wonder if the whole scene can get too groupy . . . .

By the way, O'Hara and Ashbery are the only folks I know in your article, and I don't know them very well.

Lovers' Lane