Yesterday and today at this conference, there has been a panel discussion with three of the faculty pondering questions both somewhat flip (but no less serious for all that)—"How Hard Should We Be Trying to Piss People Off?" (Dorothy Allison, Steve Almond, Pam Houston)—and ponderous—"Spirit, Sex, Beauty, (Death) and the Ineffable, and How the Mind Makes Language of Them" (Mark Doty, Lidia Yuknavitch, Greg Glazner).
The first included such threads as telling the truth, breaking codes of silence, anger as a form of self-assertion, moral rage (Vonnegut), telling a story versus standing in a place and saying what you think, self-implication, complicity, "becoming the person I'm supposed to be—a long process," the use of irony, demagoguery.
|Mark, Lidia, Greg|
I know this won't make much sense to many of you readers (or to me next week, most likely), but each of these points fits in to what I sense the serious writers around me are trying to do. Question patriarchy, undermine demagoguery, steer in a new direction, tip the boat, open people's eyes, question assumptions, get people thinking at the very least.
My own project has plenty of potential for the "political," which I don't know that I'm smart enough to tackle; but it also has room for the ineffable, and differential powers, and exploring culpability. And lots of other stuff, like character, wants, needs, love, disappointment, plot. We'll see if I can weave any of that into Amber Moon. Once I get back to it. Which should be pretty soon, after I've finished off my last job.
In this afternoon's panel, Mark read and parsed a poem by Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass, "The Sleeper." I'll end with that, simply because it's glorious. And if you'd like his commentary (not from today, but from a similar seminar, go here).
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? . . . I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child . . . the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.
This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.
All goes onward and outward . . . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.