Judge Not, Lest You Be Accosted

Lately, I have noticed a phenomenon going on around the area where I live.  People are becoming more and more agitated.  When I lived in northern New Jersey, not far from New York, I decided it was a given that people were rude, short-tempered, etc.

Now, I live in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.  In every region of our country each population possesses its own habits and foibles.  Anyone who has ever traveled anywhere (save maybe for Vegas which is another story that will stay in Vegas) knows this.  But socio-geographical differences aside, I have noticed the same in my quiet little neighborhood.  Unless there are transplants arriving enmasse from places like the greater New York metropolitan area (or Paris), then I can only surmise a few scenarios that have turned people in mean-spirited, pupil-pinpointed, raging lunatics.

Scenario #1: Economic difficulties.  This is one that has merit, but judging from the agonizing looks on people behind the wheels of their Mercedes and their BMWs I have serious doubt about how much the economic decline has hurt their wallet.  I would pass judgment too on those drivers who hide high above the road in their Humvees but my compact Korean-made car doesn’t allow to see those folks eye to eye.  In our society there have always been the haves and the have-nots.  This will never change.  The titles just shift from time to time, but the margin is not that great.

Scenario #2: Conspiracy Nut Spoiler Alert: a virus released into the air that effects those portions of the human brain that control compassion and reason.  Not for nothing, but my half-assed research has proven a correlation between chem trails in the air and my run-ins with the emotionally unstable, rabid few that ruin the day for the many.  Take from this what you will…

Scenario #3: A moving away from any sense of spirituality.  I’m not talking about goose-stepping, Lord-praising, mindless born-agains who lack the wherewithal to question the validity of their faith.  I’m talking about a simple feeling that exists within us more rational types that allows us to differentiate between the micro and the macro.  In other words, the sense that humbles us when we pause and consider something greater than ourselves.  We, as a society, have moved away from family as a center of gravity in our lives.  In its place we became possessed with the desire to define ourselves as consumers first.  And let’s not forget the myriad pharmaceuticals prescribed by the mental health industry that rain down on this great land of ours like sweets from the Big Rock Candy Mountain.  The very same drugs that are altering the neuro-chemical processes in our brains faster than any data from drug companies that can be made available to the public about real, long-term side effects.

It pains me to leave the house most days.  I don’t want to deal with people who sacrificed any shred of decency long ago for the sake of the ego-centered universe.  Still, I do go out and suffer their delusions of grandeur and ignorance.  Perhaps if I started taking medicine for the mind I wouldn’t feel so bad about being accosted by these monsters.  At the least I wouldn’t be aware of it. And at most, perhaps, I might even view arrogance and meanness as acceptable behavior.

In the end I suppose that our Beloved Maker gave us Free Will as means not to choose what is right or wrong, but as a means to solidify our own miserable end.  And people ask me why I don’t go to church anymore…It has less to do with a failing sense of faith in something greater than me and more to do with the tantrums my fellow congregation members throw once a church service lets out and everyone jockeys for position to exit a church parking lot.  These are the faces of the possessed.  The ones who exist outside God’s good grace.  Only, they don’t know it.  Or maybe they do and that’s why so many people seem so mean and crazy these days.

A Poet’s Shelf Life

Thinking about free verse and the American Idiom.

A long time ago I read William Carlos Williams book The American Idiom which helped me understand how very different poetry’s language is in this country from our English predecessors. More than that it was a series of letters between Dr. Williams and Harold Norse. I used to tell people all the time that I learned more from reading little books like this than I ever did in my undergraduate days.

Frost may have viewed free
verse as playing tennis without a net, but
I’ve played tennis with and
without a net. And all things
considered, I’d take
free verse any day.

Still, do we all live under the shadow of Whitman? Where do these thoughts come from? Is there anything original left?

Whitman wrote in his preface to Leaves Of Grass: “The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” If that’s true, then why do so many poets think that poetry is dying in this country? Or worse, as that other old man Donald Hall once wrote about in his famous essay ‘Poetry and Ambition’:

“Our poems, in their charming and interchangeable quantity, do not presume to the status of ‘Lycidas’—for that would be elitist and un-American. We write and publish the McPoem—ten billion served—which becomes our contribution to the history of literature as the Model T is our contribution to a history which runs from bare feet past elephant and rickshaw to the vehicles of space.”

It is a fallacy of course for any poet to write a poem and think it will be long-lived like Milton’s work, or Blake or any other immortal poet that comes to mind. Poems that have lasted more than a century were undoubtedly groundbreaking in their day, but I believe these poems were written not with longevity in mind on the part of the poet. No, it was the flirt not with the Muse so much as it was with what Lorca called ‘Duende’–the dance on the brink of madness perhaps, flirting with death, without a care in the world, becoming one with the work, being overcome by the work, finding that place where the poem takes over the poet, that place of no-ego, but not in the classic Buddha sense.

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