Poet’s Statement: “Solastalgia” is a term coined to describe the experience of mourning environmental loss, of grieving your home while you still inhabit it.¹ An experience quickly becoming common to the majority of humans presently living — people of all languages, cultures, and beliefs.
This poem attempts to grapple honestly with what it means to remember (and to remember poetically) in an era where all that we claim to write in defense of is in danger of disappearing. An era where concrete, human actions are required beyond art, to avert or at least mitigate an ecological collapse that could easily put an end to most of what inspires us to poetry, and to countless lives (human and otherwise) beyond that. As such, it is at times less than poetic. But it is also a call towards a new sort of poetry.²
Lines of Fissure
After “A Woman Dead in Her Forties,” Adrienne Rich
Say the rain falls thin as thunder
over vacant gardens. Say the stars
are not just distant fires in which half-formed things
and you’d be wrong, but
say it anyway. Keep your thought clenched
to a smooth syllable, pebble beneath the tongue, and I’ll choke down
what I could never tell you – that it is only on the gods
that rain can fall so lightly. That for us, there is no garden
save for roots that clutch the flesh of corpses, and no gate
except some dog lies by it, waiting for years that trusted
apparition that will never
return home. If this was wrong
you would return home.
If this was wrong,
there would be home, still, to return to.
Poet’s Statement: This poem was inspired by an avalanche class in which I learned the many different types of snow, and how to read the history of a winter season in the layers of the snowpack. While snow layers are dynamic, they also contain a fixed record of memory, like the rings of a tree or the fossils in layers of earth.
Naturally, we humans may think of memory as something contained and encoded in our brains—as something we carry with us. But the woven synapses that fire to bring back images from our past don’t necessarily fire on their own. They often depend on us being in a certain place, stronger in its power to make us recall than even our own willpower to access our past.
Picture where the shoe
leaves the pavement. Is it
here? or here? or here? Look,
the foot has gone a ways,
and the leg along
with it; see the knee
unbend, the leg extend
like a wing unfurling
over the concrete.
“I stand upon my desk to remind [myself] that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” – John Keating, Dead Poets Society
We human beings are creatures of rhythm and contrast, but we think statically.
We are used to questions like “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What do you do?” as if one thing will become the answer for perpetuity. This type of thinking shapes, and is shaped, by static images of who we are. But these static images don’t fit our real lives. At least they shouldn’t.
Silence is all we dread.
There’s Ransom in a Voice—
But Silence is Infinity.
Himself have not a face.
— Emily Dickinson
I once had a professor who described Emily Dickinson’s poems as diamonds— like great amounts of life’s raw materials formed into something dense and beautiful. It is precisely that quality of density that allows us to dwell among just four short lines of her craft, still discovering new meanings, new questions, new possibilities, and always sensing that what we hold is, like a diamond, a rare and precious thing.
Matter and Substance (Prose Poem)
I had a dream wherein I could not hear the music for the loud, distracting discord of the damned sounds.
But then I noticed, perplexed: these too, in all their corruption, are like a kind of music—
inscrutable and distant, and yet more tangible.
To listen and to hear, then
—or, rather, to do these singly, without distinction—would be to be transfigured.
For to understand is not to know; to know sounds as music by necessity means the death of at least some understanding.
The artist channels inspiration’s force,
Makes it heave the heavy rocks aside
That would bind its fluid motion
To secret, silent pools. And once that
Rivulet-rift is cut, the roaring voice
Of the artist echoes long and wide through
The canyons, who ever hence know its noise by name.
“Beyond all doubt it is best to have made one’s first acquaintance with Spenser in a very large—and, preferably, illustrated—edition of The Faerie Queene, on a wet day, between the ages of twelve and sixteen…” – C. S. Lewis
An existential irony exists today, in which we have been insulated from our world by noise. Because our senses are constantly bombarded, we must tune down our sensitivity to the world in order to cope with it all. The loudest, most urgent noises make it through, and we process them, often according to priority of urgency. The net effect is to silence our ears to the rest of the world and its subtleties.
I needn’t delve into the many well-documented repercussions of this chronic clamor on our psyches. We know most of them only too well. But I will mention one lesser-known one, and that is the effect on our relationship to art.
If art were a car, it would run on attention—deep, high-octane attention.