POETRY AND HOME
“Multitude, solitude: identical terms and interchangeable by the active and fertile poet. The man who is unable to people his solitude is equally unable to be alone in a bustling crowd.”
--Charles Baudelaire, from "Crowds" in Paris Spleen
When I moved, after living for decades in one house, one of the first things I did was create a bedroom like a seaside sanctuary in shades of green and blue and sand. This is my serene thinking place, with late afternoon’s gold light streaming through the rippling, grey-green curtains. Next, I liberated my poetry books from their boxes and relocated them to alphabetical places of honor on shelves in my room and the connecting hallway. I needed their silent wisdom, their beauty, their bright light and deep shadows to surround me. They flicker alive as each day’s changing light passes over them.
This morning, as I drift barefoot past the shelves, I stop and draw in close to my books. I breathe them in, as if I can inhale those many words, rich with meaning and messages. I notice how they stand side by side, companionable, leaning against each other as if whispering. I touch some of their spines in welcome, admiring their titles. Some titles are poems in themselves.
I feel compelled to get up from my desk and pull Charles Simic’s books from the shelf. I carry them back with me, and here they are, sitting on my lap. His masterpiece titles: “Dime Store Alchemy,” “The Monster Loves His Labyrinth,” “My Noiseless Entourage,” “Night Picnic,” “The Voice at 3:00 A.M.,” “The World Doesn’t End.” So few words creating such big worlds. These titles speak to each other, and to me.
With a little electric zap, I realize that my entire community of poetry books creates “found poetry” with their wealth of striking titles. Titles brought together by alphabetical chance create haiku-like poems of their own. In twin, triplet, and even quadruplet assemblages, the accidental poems arrive. Here is Joy Harjo’s “A Map to the Next World,” adjacent to Jennifer Michael Hecht’s “The Next Ancient World.” Thrillingly, “On Love” by Edward Hirsch stands shoulder to shoulder with “The Lives of the Heart” (Jane Hirshfield), which is next to “Lives of Water” (John Hoppenthaler), which is next to “What the Living Do” (Marie Howe). And – wonderful – René Char’s “This Smoke That Carried Us” connects with Ye Chun’s “Travel Over Water.” Some matches are eerily comical: Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s “Never Be the Horse” rubs shoulders with “Circling the Tortilla Dragon” by Ray Gonzalez. All the magical correspondences turn into inspiration and personal connection. (And uplifting play.) That same zap crackles when my eye, hungry for poetry’s odd juxtapositions, forms the bridge that links book to book.
I love those serendipitous interconnections. Early-early this morning, I was reading at random from two books, Baudelaire’s “Paris Spleen” and “The Selected Works of Tomas Tranströmer.” I like to meander inside a varying landscape, sampling surprise vistas as I wander book to book. I like to inhabit other poets’ eyes and minds and hearts. Baudelaire’s quote above seems so fitting. And here are lines, seemingly meant for me, from Tranströmer’s poem, “Baltics”: “Foghorn blasting every other minute. His eyes reading straight into the invisible. / (Did he have the labyrinth in his head?)”.
Inside my new place, I’m finding my way home. I still live among the conversations of my community of books: the comforting, the unsettling, the wild and heady and inspiring. I keep company with so many geniuses. Together, we have moved through late winter into spring.