At one point in the history of the world, the continents were just one continent made up of many different tectonic plates. Actually, it seems that this happened at various moments in time; moreover, that the history of this planet is nothing more than the endless coming together and breaking apart of giant masses of land; only it isn’t endless, because it started at some point, and at some point our star—The Sun, which is a great name, I think—supposedly will die or will eat us, and this planet will not exist as anything more than matter, which exists forever. As far as we know. I mean, I don’t know if matter exists forever; that is not a thing that a person can know. It sounds right to me. I feel the truth of it someplace in my body, which is where one feels. And yet.
Like the endlessly rearranging landmass itself, what I know (and, sorry, what you know too, friendo) is constantly shifting, coming together and breaking apart. Certainty has a pretty lousy track record, historically speaking. And because we are on such shaky ground existentially really all the time, we have constructed a vast network of crap and garbage to distract us. Perhaps because real certainty is so elusive, we crave it. We make grand proclamations subjecting everyone who isn’t us to absurd requirements of morality we would most likely fall short of ourselves if we were really being honest about it. The very existence of human life is the result of violent explosions and powerful mysteries left unanswered. How are we doing with that information? I feel more and more that there is a meanness in us and around us. I feel like we are not doing well. I feel it in myself, and I’m worried about it.
I’m getting around to talking about poetry, but I wanted to start with the planet and the universe itself, because I think that’s where poetry kinda comes from. Poems are written by people, and people are very historical. We have undergone so very much evolution, and we have detached ourselves as much as possible from what that might feel like emotionally, but we haven’t detached ourselves all the way, because we can’t, because we live in our lives. In the preface to her 1996 book Imagination Verses (about which I’ve been recently obsessing), Jennifer Moxley writes that poetry “is a bridge of half measures on the way to the possible, drawn from the viewpoint, time frame and landscape of a single life” (ix). They tell us we are made of stardust. It’s true, right? That the history of the universe is encoded in our cells? And it remains there always entirely hidden from us. Everything we want to know is tantalizingly available, within us but just beyond our ability to understand the language in which it is expressed. Doesn’t it make sense that we might feel compelled to attempt this communication from time to time?
I’ve been carrying around and reading Emily Hunt’s new book of poems, Dark Green (The Song Cave, 2015), for the better part of the past couple of months. I realize that attempting communication in the mystically organic language of the history of biological time is a lot to ask of poetry, perhaps, and also that asking anything of art is probably exactly the sort of thing I shouldn’t be doing with the limited brain I’ve been given, but once in a while you come across an artistic point of view that feels right to you. It passes your bullshit detector. It bears your scrutiny, or, happily, it momentarily frees you from the burden of scrutiny entirely. Like I said, it just feels right to you, and that’s how I feel about Dark Green.
Hunt’s poems don’t shy away from the kind of cosmic attention I’m concerned with even as they find, somehow, like a piece of hay in a haystack, the beating heart of the self in all of space and time:
I hope everything
behind me was there in order
to push me toward this
(“Love Is a Good Thing Running,” 22)
I eat the salt, I plummet
into memory where I find
memory is sick of me
and I remember reality
(“I Was Very Angry,” 49)
I read an insistence in Dark Green that the specificities of one’s life are, in fact, evidence of one’s humanity, and that to juxtapose our own small lives with the largeness of space and time is to assert that humanity. You might just be a little, flashing light many millions of miles away, but still, that’s you. Here is the poem, “Winter,” in its entirety.
my blue light arrived
from Springfield today
to imitate the sun
This poem is a masterpiece of careful attention and point of view. I mean, isn’t it heartbreaking how much it matters how you look at something? Consider, also, the roller coaster ride of these two lines from the poem “2013”: “even being in the world gets old / lying in the spring together on the phone” (56). I’m so moved reading these lines and this entire collection of poems by the many permutations of ways of thinking about what time and distance do to us and mean to us. We get time as something lived through and endured, but also time as delineation and measure, something to hold us up and let us breathe and help us go on through it. Hunt writes:
as far as all the other stuff goes
maybe it comes down
to time spent, the shared, the known
the escaping what was shared
(“You Must Be So Tired,” 26)
It goes without saying that I am speaking personally, here. That shouldn’t be something I need to write down, I guess, but you run the risk, writing down your thoughts, of turning the feeling of a moment into a universality you’ll have to answer for later. The thing I am trying to say about how it feels to find an artistic point of view that feels right to you: it’s about you. In “It’s Good to Be in Your Paintings,” Hunt writes, “Massachusetts is dark green” (35). I can’t explain to you what is right about that. It might not be your experience, and I won’t subject myself to the ridiculous indignity of reasoning; I’m just telling you: it feels right to me.
The kind of attention this book gives the experience of being a person is an attention that—in spite of this probably embarrassing attempt on my part to begin to articulate it—I feel strongly we are missing in our lives. In one particularly moving moment, Hunt ends the poem “Paradise Lost” with the small phrase, “or rage” (32). When I got there, I shut the book and put it down for a second. I thought about rage. I thought about how rage is bad. There it was on the page, though. It was totally open and unending. It felt friendly. Around our impossibly insignificant little speck of a planet is a universe that could not sustain us even for a second as far as we know. That’s something we know about the reality of life here. And even though, given the size of the universe, there seems to be no real reason to do anything at all, still we move around, fall in love, get hurt, see beautiful things, and get so angry sometimes we can’t even think. Rage, even, is this weird miracle of a gift. It’s so optimistic of us to feel as much as we do. I mean, that we can even talk at all is strange. It’s amazing; you can convince yourself that what you have to say is worth saying for long enough to write a poem that appreciates even rage, of all things in the world. It starts with an explosion; you write it down.
Seth Landman is a poet. His second book, Confidence, is coming out in August from Brooklyn Arts Press. You can find more information here.