"Ritualistic utterances, therefore, whether made up of words that have symbolic significance at other times, of words in foreign or obsolete tongues, or of meaningless syllables, may be regarded as consisting in large part of presymbolic uses of language: that is, accustomed sets of noises which convey no information, but to which feelings (in this case group feelings) are attached. Such utterances rarely make sense to anyone not a member of the group. The abracadabra of a lodge meeting is absurd to anyone but a member of the lodge. When language becomes ritual, that is to say, its effect becomes to a considerable extend independent of whatever significations the words once possessed."
— S. I. Hayakawa
"Words That Don't Inform," Language in Action
Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939
I have had such a time—difficult, obscure, confused, vain, lamentable—trying to produce this message. It has been a clarifying struggle, I think, but I've yet to experience the clarity, that vantage point from which all things look and feel ordered, by some marvelous and incomprehensible standard. (Perhaps by the end of the essay?) And I should confess that I'm not sure just what to make of S. I. Hayakawa's thought on ritualistic utterances, even though it has found its way into multiple real-time conversations of late.
I have this feeling—and have experienced it, and have witnessed it's unfathomable power in many others—that the poet trusts what is immanently known, what possesses, in a sense, and from that point (of trust-in-knowing) communicates whatever the poet decides—in each moment, as it passes—to communicate. But all the failure. But all the confusion. But all the unintended. But all the deception. But all the loss. Yes, all of it. Which is what makes where we are—each of us—so inconceivably dynamic.
There is such a thing as becoming desperate about the ephemeral aspect of this trustingness. Is the moment trustworthy? That depends on whether we ourselves are trustworthy, I think. And I feel this desperation now, in wanting to get on with it: in the local sense, wanting to get on with this attempt at a meaningful gesture in language, and in the global sense, wanting to get on with the year and its impending challenges, political and otherwise (always otherwise). But this desperation cannot rule the day. Scholar-poets like Anne Carson, Michael Schmidt, Pearl London, Louis Glück, Derek Walcott, and so many more have shown (and continue to show) us the basically immaculate result of staying with a thought, topic, movement, despite the invariable concern over the world's whirling:
Here, hold this. It is this. You can have it if you like. It might help you. It might show you how special, how caring you are among all the exploding stars in the very vacuum of the sky. You really are here, really and actually alive. From David Mutschlecner's Poetic Faith:
"This is real; this is really happening. I am here by amazing grace and marrow music." Then: "The same mind that brought you to nothingness teems with sublime community."
In these dark-strange, white-blind days the things worth celebrating are somehow novel, somehow not the things I'm used to celebrating. In other words, I'd like to revel in the "traditionally" positive elements of culture—publishings, gatherings, conversations, studies, passions—but they occur in the new and troubling "light" of this American present, one which is full of wealth and fear and, well, unbelievable depth. And I'll interrupt myself a touch in saying that an abundance of information is not equal to an abundance of knowledge. The more we collect, the greater is our obligation to stay with and sift through what has been collected. And I am being loose about proclamations, because I'm not sure what I really mean in using the words "greater" and "obligation." What I know is that nature is neither total chaos nor complete order. And of course I don't know that at all.
Perhaps I should just come out and name, however concretely, a few of the things I consider tremendously positive, here and now, in my life and beyond it:
David Mutschlecner's Poetic Faith (along with his other poems/poetics), which re-affirms, in the boldly compassionate language of poetry, the pursuit of spiritual integrity that each of us is given to, consciously or not.
The very first quarterly edition of The Lune, which comprises three moving new collections: Nina Pick's Leaving the Lecture on Dance, Jonathan Simkins's This Is The Crucible, and Thomas Phalen's Useless Lodestone & Other Poems. Indigo and I are truly thrilled to see it—the serendipitous arc that runs between the three collections—enter the universe as such. And:
The upcoming pre-inauguration poetry rally at the Mercury Cafe in Denver, featuring readings by Joseph Hutchison, Claire Ibarra, Sarah Escue, Jonathan Simkins, and Marielle Grenade-Willis. I am excited to be resurrecting Tootles Methuselah for the sake of hosting the event and introducing these phenomenal poets. You can click their names to learn more and read works by each of them.
Yes, it's all poetry. Yes, just a list of three essentially local (to this website) things. These positives are not ignorant, I hope, of the greater challenges we face today. The socio-cultural relevance of poetry is rooted not only in an awareness of mythical themes but in the practical articulation of them. This is where ritual comes (back) in! Here are Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers in episode three of the Power of Myth, "The First Storytellers":
BILL MOYERS: So what happens when a society no longer embraces powerful mythology?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: What we’ve got on our hands. As I say, if you want to find what it means not to have a society without any rituals, read The New York Times.
BILL MOYERS: And you’d find?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, the news of the day.
"The news of the day" is a conundrum in the sense that it does not seem to help us recover the mythos that Moyers and Campbell discuss, yet we turn to it and, to a certain extend, trust it. The confusion seems to me to hinge upon two distinct ideas: 1) Let's not exalt a reality that fails to acknowledge the one we face, and 2) "how can I keep from singing?"
As regards the first point, there are myriad ways in which to responsibly acknowledge the realities confronted by humankind; there is no one way to "tell it like it is." This makes sense: humankind is a bafflingly vast array of entities and circumstances as original as they are familiar. Campbell had a gift for integrating the array, and his notion of "following one's bliss" does a good job of communicating the gravity that holds it all together: love. Love, whatever the hell it is, leads directly to the second point above, which I will simply restate in different words: What is it that keeps us from celebrating the coherent reality that we experience upon waking each and every morning? Well, it's a lot of different things. And different is beautiful.
Yours in the noise,