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A Poem About (Messy, Visceral) Love for National Poetry Month April 6, 2018

Posted by andrewfieldlibrarian in Uncategorized.
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April is National Poetry Month, which means I have the opportunity to write about one of my favorite topics.  Poetry, for me, is one of the most beautiful, powerful, and expressive of the art forms.  While visual art uses the world that we see, and music uses the sense of our hearing, poetry uses both (seeing = the arrangement of the poem on the page; hearing = the rhythm of the poem on the page, or hearing the poem read out loud).  But what poetry uses more than anything else is language.  And that’s why I love it so much.  Don’t get me wrong – fiction and non-fiction are also constructed out of language, but poetry for me is a different use of language, and it can gesture towards aspects of experience that are hard to talk about or explain, including love and grief.  Here, for example is a poem a friend of mine shared recently on Facebook.  I read it with the shocked awareness of something being said about love and grief that would be hard to articulate in another art form.  Here is the poem:

Marriage

By Ellen Bass
When you finally, after deep illness, lay
the length of your body on mine, isn’t it
like the strata of the earth, the pressure
of time on sand, mud, bits of shell, all
the years, uncountable wakings, sleepings,
sleepless nights, fights, ordinary mornings
talking about nothing, and the brief
fiery plummets, and the unselfconscious
silences of animals grazing, the moving
water, wind, ice that carries the minutes, leaves
behind minerals that bind the sediment into rock.
How to bear the weight, with every
flake of bone pressed in. Then, how to bear when
the weight is gone, the way a woman
whose neck has been coiled with brass
can no longer hold it up alone. Oh love,
it is balm, but also a seal. It binds us tight
as the fur of a rabbit to the rabbit.
When you strip it, grasping the edge
of the sliced skin, pulling the glossy membranes
apart, the body is warm and limp. If you could,
you’d climb inside that wet, slick skin
and carry it on your back. This is not
neat and white and lacy like a wedding,
not the bright effervescence of champagne
spilling over the throat of the bottle. This visceral
bloody union that is love, but
beyond love. Beyond charm and delight
the way you to yourself are past charm and delight.
This is the shucked meat of love, the alleys and broken
glass of love, the petals torn off the branches of love,
the dizzy hoarse cry, the stubborn hunger.

Although the poem is titled “Marriage,” I think it could speak to anyone who has experienced love both as a “balm” and a “seal.”  Here, Ellen Bass is trying to get beyond notions of love that are “neat and white and lacy.”  She is trying through language to gesture towards the messy and visceral aspects of love, the way it reaches us down to the roots and changes our lives in unalterable ways.  Love, for Bass, is like “the way you to yourself are past charm and delight.”  It is real, and therefore not always pretty, but its power moves within us, through happiness and (maybe even more so?) through loss.  Love is such a rich and complicated thing that it contains

                                                                   all
the years, uncountable wakings, sleepings,
sleepless nights, fights, ordinary mornings
talking about nothing, and the brief
fiery plummets, and the unselfconscious
silences of animals grazing, the moving
water, wind, ice that carries the minutes, leaves
behind minerals that bind the sediment into rock.

When people love each other, they are loving a person formed by time, and time is full of so many things, including dreams, quarrels, chatter, silence, and even things like weather and trees and leaves and rock.  When we love someone, we are loving an embodiment of the world.  This is not a pretty poem, but a poem doesn’t have to be pretty.  Instead, it needs to be honest about its subject matter.  Reading it is therefore bracing, but also energizing.  I hope during this month, and beyond, that you are able to find poems that you find energizing, exciting, and moving, full of rich language and imagery.

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Ellen Bass

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