Tuesday, November 10, 2020

 In The Nice and the Good, Iris Murdoch writes:

There are mysterious agencies of the human mind which, like roving gases, travel the world, causing pain and mutilation, without their owners having any full awareness, or even any awareness at all, of the strength and whereabouts of these exhalations. Possibly a saint might be known by the utter absence of such gaseous tentacles, but the ordinary person is naturally endowed with them, just as he is endowed with the ghostly power of appearing in other people's dreams.

I read this passage immediately after waking from a dream in which I'd been assigned to write Joe Biden's inaugural poem. In the dream I was busily creating a long, drawn-out piece of galloping doggerel in which every stanza ended with some version of the line:

Roy Scheider's empanadas on Chesapeake Bay

When I woke up, I had a hard time remembering who the hell Roy Scheider was, and then it came to me: he played the shark-hunting police chief in Jaws. Well, I guess that explains the presence of Chesapeake Bay. Empanadas, I know, arises from a comical advertisement on the Cincinnati Reds baseball radio station, in which a very midwestern woman asks listeners if they would like "try something a little more advainturous"  (i.e., "empanaidas") at some local chain restaurant. After hearing this, Paul and I spent several days saying "advainturous" and "empanaidas" to each other every chance we got.

So back to Murdoch's "gaseous tentacles." They don't always have to be ominous or soul-destroying, but they do tangle with our rational lives. How would I feel if I were invited to write an inaugural poem? Terrified. Honored. Unworthy. But also excited. In this silly dream, the idea of poetry became an exaggerated exercise in "Casey at the Bat" cadence and the weird nocturnal collisions of memory. It was driven by sound, and details fell into place around the sound. That's pretty much how I compose in real life, though with less obvious absurdity. I'm fascinated by the way in which my approach to poem writing remains consistent, even in dream logic.

This ridiculous dream, this "mysterious agenc[y] of the human mind," forces me into a sort of clarity: how can I speak? which words will find me?

To date, I have received no phone calls from Dr. Biden suggesting that I might like to write an inaugural poem. But if I do, what will I find myself writing?

1 comment:

Ruth said...

short enough to memorized by every caring loving soul