I think about this sometimes when I am writing and I find the familiar sayings filling in for the void in my logic . . .
Not that my parody does justice to Larkin, the great librarian-poet and jazz critic.
But really, I find myself asking . . .
What are these clichés for,
all these familiar sayings
about where we live, who we are, what we do . . .
They come, they speak to me and for me
time and time again . . .
by Philip Larkin
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
The human position, we already knew: a global crisis
was taking place while we were eating lunch . . .
It was only natural, perhaps, how everyone turned away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; a man on an oil tanker
Might have heard the last splash, the animal bark or cries . . .
But for him it was unimportant--or perhaps it was just
A small price to pay, a few animals disappearing forever
beneath the waves as the expansive ship glided by.
Musée des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
“Listen,” F. Jasmine said. “What I’ve been trying to say is this. Doesn’t it strike you as strange that I am I, and you are you? I am F. Jasmine Addams. And you are Berenice Sadie Brown. And we can look at each other, and touch each other, and stay together year in and year out in the same room. Yet always I am I, and you are you. And I can’t ever be anything else but me, and you can ever be anything else but you. Have you ever thought of that? And does it seem to you strange? ”
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.
from "Ode on a Grecian Urn"
I think of these lines when I think of towns like Cheshire, Ohio, towns which are emptied of people, but the residents could neither return nor talk of what happened there.
The same, it seems, happens to people whose water is contaminated due to fracking fluids. Once they settle their law suits, they are silenced. As a consequence, the radio is full of bold claims that no one's water has been contaminated.
My new chapbook is out from Kattywompus Press. I love chapbooks, and I really like the editors of this tiny new press in Cleveland. I love the brevity of chapbooks. I think of them as test-runs, and I feel more free to print whatever I feel like at the time. I think everyone should write a few chapbooks in between their larger works.
This particular collection has a few of my semi-essays in it. By semi-essays, I suppose I mean what most people call creative nonfiction, a term that has always troubled me. How much is creative and how much is nonfiction? Sometimes I read samples of creative nonfiction in magazines, and the pieces seem to have nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with creativity . . . I am not sure what to make of them.
I was asked to judge another contest, but alas, I can't do it this time. How could I? I who usually hate winning books. I who love runts, loose ends, mistakes, half-baked books full of fragments and lost souls.
I was reading for a contest once, and there was book with a drawing of an ape in the middle with the words, You call that evolution? You humans are a MISTAKE! There was also a handwritten note taped into the manuscript -- an apology from God for the creation of mankind. Every poem was in a different font, and some were double-spaced, some single- spaced, some hand-written. In script no less. I love script. Beautiful script--obviously written with a fountain pen.
That book was my secret winner. The book was called Beloved Ape.
I sometimes dream of starting a press. I would call it Beloved Apes.
Nin Andrews is the author of 5 full collections of poetry and 6 chapbooks. She is also the editor of a book of translations of the Belgian poet, Henri Michaux. Her literary comics are posted on Best American Poetry's Blog on Monday mornings.