Broken-down Poetry: Title Track: Poets


Related Posts with Thumbnails

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Title Track: Poets

“Poets do not go mad, but chess players do.” – G.K. Chesterton
A few weeks ago my favorite author, J.D. Salinger, died at the age of 91. This was, ironically, at the pinnacle of my Salinger obsession. I had just bought two of his books I didn’t own; I read passages of them every night before bed. Up until his death, I slept with a copy of “Nine Stories” by my pillow. (I mean this literally – for some reason it was easier to keep it tucked by my side than to set it on the nightstand.)
I spend an unfortunate amount of time thinking about Salinger. Admitting this may disprove Chesterton’s quote in and of itself, whether you call me a poet or not. But it’s true. Even when I’m not reading one of Salinger’s books I think about him. I just wonder what he had been up to for so long.
Since The New Yorker printed his fifth and final novella about the Glass family back in the mid-1960s, Salinger hadn’t published anything or starred on any talk shows. I heard once, on the “Colbert Report,” that he recently sued someone for making a sequel to “Catcher in the Rye,” which was the first time he’d spoken to the press in 30 years.
30 years of silence – interesting. This is why I have been thinking so much about him. What could he have possibly been doing?
I had read once that one of Salinger’s characters, Buddy Glass, is the apparent author of all Salinger’s novels. In “Seymour – an Introduction,” in which Buddy is the narrator, he mentions that he’s written several stories about his family and that his brother Seymour, the poet of the family, wrote volumes of brilliant poetry that was not published because his widow has all rights to them.
This got me thinking. What if Salinger spent 30 years writing Seymour’s poetry? Maybe those 15 unpublished manuscripts they found in Salinger’s safe were really Seymour’s poems. I imagine Salinger staying up until 3 a.m. scrawling poems on parchment in the candlelight, his eyes heavy from sleeplessness and booze.
Maybe poets do go mad.
I went to a Derek Webb concert last weekend in Huntington. Webb is known for his powerful lyrics. As he sang song after song about his convictions, I started thinking about what I would write about if I were a lyricist.
I’d probably start by singing songs about love and God and peace and hope. But then I’d see myself getting burned out pretty easily by all the optimism, so I’d move on to angry rants about politics and war and sin and hatred. Then that’d depress me even more, so I’d take a break from music for a few years, join the Peace Corps, then revert back to my original topics: love and God and peace and hope.
I wouldn’t make a good lyricist.
I noticed, too, at the concert how desperately I try to communicate my emotions and convictions through words like Webb. I think this is an inherent need for humans.
Actually, I know it is.
My blog, the one I link you all to at the end of my column, is called Broken-Down Poetry. I stole the name from a quote by George MacDonald, a 19th century writer and lecturer.
He said, “Poetry is the highest form of the utterance of men’s thoughts. There would have been no prose if poetry had not gone first and taught people how to write. Prose is but brokendown poetry.”
That first part – “poetry is the highest form of the utterance of men’s thoughts” – resonates with me. This is that longing to express myself. Not only do I want to express myself, I want to do it well – poetically. But sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my words get jumbled and it comes out like gibberish.
Words fail me. Living has to be enough. I can’t always tell you what I think, but I can show you. I’m crying – I can’t tell you why, but I am.
Paul wrote, “We are God’s workmanship [his “poema,” poem] created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” My life is a poem.
I am, in a way, like the Salinger I dreamed up – writing in the darkness, spending years striving for the right words. Maybe I can’t express my convictions through song, but I can through the way I live my life.
I want the poetry of my life – my actions, my convictions, my attitude – to reflect who I am in Christ. Even if I can’t express it in words.
The post was originally printed in Indiana Wesleyan University's The Sojourn newspaper.

No comments: