Friday, May 29, 2009

Typos in Poetry

I read through last year’s “this is what I believe” paper before I started work on my response to a new version of that assignment that I’m giving this year’s AP English students and I found this poem, a poem I had completely forgotten:

“Off in the darkness hourses moved restlessly”
- a typo in Clifford Simak’s A Heritage of Stars

We believed they were horses; and so
We saddled up, we rode expectantly
Through the long day and into the night.
Then we dismounted; and slept; and still
They continued to carry us
- The hours. They wouldn’t stop.
They carried us clean away.

- Albert Goldbarth (2005)

In my paper from last year, I used the poem as a little bit of a joke, but also as an illustration of the power of perspective and how every individual controls his own perspective. If you want, the poem is depressing. If you want, the poem is funny. If you want, the poem is instructive. If you want, the poem is a reminder of the wonderful elasticity of language. When I read it, I think about perspective.

Several years ago, a student (with an absolutely phenomenal eye for film, for images, incidentally) gave me a copy of The Lorax. And in it, he wrote, “For someone with the mind of a cynic and the heart of a romantic.” And since perspective is everything, I’m free to disagree with him. I’ve never been sure, after all, that he got it quite right. But in the seeming paradox of that dedication, there is truth.

I teach. I’m a teacher. But I’m also a father, a husband, a son, a brother, and a friend. I’m a student, a reader, a writer, a musician, and I used to be a climber. I’m a cook and a brewer. I’m a runner, a listener, and, at some point, I’d like to be a gardener. I think I’m probably, in some ways, a hermit.

At any given moment, I can perceive myself as more or less of any one of those beings – to say nothing of countless others I could list. And it’s in my power to do so. It’s my choice.

But the poem: the poem is fantastic. Fantastic. The beautiful human capacity to make and remake the world at will. Exactly what Wallace Stevens returns to again and again in his poetry.

Which means that I need to read some Wallace Stevens today.

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