In the meanwhile our schools are designed to produce fractional men by the million, and the emphasis of life is placed on the extreme lower range of humanly realizable values. We are trying to live by bread alone, with far less than half of reality; and through the jungles of the world stalk monstrous hates and greeds, and even in the press of thousands upon thousands of our fellow creatures we are lonesome.
- John G Neihardt, Poetic Values: Their Reality and Our Need of Them
* * *
I look around me - in papers and books stacked and stuffed and stored on every shelf, in every drawer, packed in boxes I rarely open but am fully aware of, littered across the several desks and folding tables I seem to need to spread myself out - and I am surrounded by voices, voices stoppered and held on page after page by the million. They wait for an eye to read them and they roar back into life. It is easy to forget how these voices sound (there have been so many pages and so many books and stories and poems and essays and it seems enough to just touch the spine of the book and dimly remember you'd read it once, but could hardly say what was said) and you lie to yourself that in fact you do remember. But pull a book down and open it again and it is not what you remembered. It is, invariably, better, more alive than you'd allowed. You then think, how will I ever reread them all?
* * *
Here is what is: every age, every era, every epoch is fraught with destruction, stupidity and willful ignorance. What should be stable is made tenuous by the avarice and greed by those pretending to the throne. Lives of the day in and day out aren't worth the effort to breathe their name. Even the god of writers, Ganesha, cannot keep up with the streaming toll of the dead to note even their name. It has always been so. It will always be so. It is, without hesitation, unbearable if you take but a moment to consider it. It is why we don't consider it and pass our days in distractions of acquisition and feral entertainments. Yet, here is what is: there is always a voice crying in the wilderness, there is always a poet, a healer, a saint, a thinker, a fool who speaks out truths and rhymes and points in a different direction. Always marginalized, always doubted, they hold to their vision and carry on until they are carried out. Their memory echoes a while, maybe even disappears, but if an eye falls upon an open book the possibility, the chance, to be heard again exists. This very subversive idea is what put the Gospel of Thomas in those caves along the Dead Sea; it is what sits inside each unread book from 1925; it is the single copy of Aurelius' notes to himself that someone saved at the time of his death, copied, held onto, passed along until another copy was made and 2000 years later we heirs to such unlikely events can know his mind as if he sat beside us.
John Neihardt wrote of poetic values not as literary values, but human, psychological necessities to navigate the experience of being alive. The fractional men were ones without those values, or who looked down upon such things a poetry. They were practical, striving men. Yet the better part of life was missing in them: the soul's desire to be known and at home in the world. It isn't rhyming schemes that gets you there. It is imagining rhyming schemes at all. It is imaging movement, color and form for no reason other than it seems to connect, belong and throw some light on what it might mean to be alive. There is no meaning to life. You have to bring meaning to it and the meaning you bring is born by your actions. Fractional men and women (churned out by schools whose primary function is to provide a profit center for themselves while sending out half men, half women who will know enough to desire wealth, but not know their own worth) fill the coffers of others with their labor, their time and have no solace except for the passing pleasures of consumption.
No, this is no way to live. It is the belief, the rock-bottom belief that life could not be any other way. Trapped in systems that do not benefit us, that do not sustain us, that do not even keep the paltry promises made for our time, our labor, our bodies, we cease trying to escape and just get behind the mule and plow. At our deaths people nod and say we worked hard, as if that was all a life could be.
* * *
Open a book. Set aside the self-help books and the celebrity confessionals. Open a book that once meant something to you. Maybe you read it years ago. Maybe you simply purchased it, but never read it, but once you thought it might be of some value. Open a book. Take it in for a minute. If it is an older book, maybe it was hand sewn. Look at the font. Claude Garamond, William Caslon, John Baskerville gave their lives to punch cut die so that others could read. There are lives on the page that have nothing to do with the meaning of the words. This is a miracle. Look at the binding: modern and glued, or are there boards and endpages? The object itself is an achievement in imaging rhyming schemes in three dimensions. Now read it. Read it. Another human being sat still long enough to gather her thoughts and organize them, find a pattern to them and lay them out for you and you alone to see so that you might understand what she was thinking. If Neihardt's fractional men, stalking hate and greed are also lonesome it is because they read but do not see the human effort behind the words, do not recognize the very soul required to imagine rhyming schemes and the value inherent in trying to share out what is ephemeral, evanescent before it disappears: a thought. To read is to be joined to another, is to hear their voice counseling you, encouraging you, cautioning you, warning you, exhorting you to pick up the mantle of your unlikely existence and run with it. Fully. Completely. No part left out.
* * *
To be fucked, is to be living a half life. The world sucks. It always has. The malicious buffoonery of presumptive leaders invariably creates fear, creates insiders and outsiders, the haves and have-nots. It will always be so. Quit trying to save the world. Save yourself instead. Become a fool, a saint, a poet, a healer, a thinker. Use your voice so others might hear it. If your audience is but one, you have done well. Leave notes, clues, passages about what it was like to come this way. They don't have to be books or poems. Something on the back of napkin will do. These acts are inherently subversive, inherently poetic in nature for they reject the prevailing culture and suggest there might be more than work, death and taxes.
The world does not need another corporate shill. It needs poets so others will be made brave enough to imagine their own rhyming schemes.
* * *
I wish you well.