Saturday, September 09, 2017

Lifesaving Writers

It's been a long time since anyone helped me live. Time was, writers arrived regularly to save my life: Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula Le Guin, CS Lewis; then William Butler Yeats and TS Eliot and William Blake, then Tolstoy and George Eliot. Then they stopped. Oh, writers came along to amuse me. Charles Dickens. Patrick O'Brian. PG Wodehouse. Terry Pratchett. I enjoy them, I appreciate them. But no one is saving my life, nowadays. I've grimly taken my own path. I don't believe much of anything, anymore. So perhaps I've removed myself from the game. I find it hard to get far in novels now. I get impatient. "Yeah, yeah," I say, "you're just making this up: you'll find the world as it really is a harder row to hoe." And I toss it aside.

Modern poetry is a different matter. Lifesaving is not part of its agenda (or when it is, I find it tiresome.) It's observing, savoring, appreciating, paying attention. I like that. That helps.

Maybe it's that I don't believe in lifesaving any more. Or maybe it's that the song has gone out of me. Or maybe it's just that I'm not so impressed by literature's devotees anymore, even if they have read Milton and Shakespeare and all those other highfalutin Greeks. They're all interested in understanding life: but the point, as Herr Marx would have said, is to change it. And how long do you think we have, anyway? It takes hours to read a novel. Meanwhile the boats are drifting down the river, and the surf is getting ugly by the bar.


Pascale Parinda said...

Row, row, row you boat
Gently down the stream;
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Yeah, not finding much by way of sustenance in novels these days.

Nimble said...

I think when we're young there's so much unspoken fear in our hearts and writers can save us by addressing those fears and releasing them for us. As I get older I am more likely to treasure a clearly observed moment.
I'm working on a theory that the most important part of human life is the passage of time and the all the different ways we get to experience that phenomenon. I find a lot of what I read is fitting in with that idea, although the authors may have had different intents.

Jeff said...

I'm tempted to say that all of us change the world; whether or not we improve it is the real question.

But to be serious: A couple years ago, you left a positive comment on a chunk of poetry I posted on my blog; it was out of the blue, and it buoyed me for the rest of the day. I've added a couple of the poems you've posted here to my personal, digital vademecum, and I've been enjoying your book a few pages at a time for two weeks. You're having a conversation with a near-stranger on the other side of the country who's finding it inspiring and thoughtful, and you don't even know you're having it. Imagine, then, the far more meaningful difference you're likely making in the actual lives all around you. That's no small thing, really.