Sweet are the uses of adversity
--Shakespeare, As You Like It
No, "Fear Factor" is not a television show, but a mantra of our times. Politics thrive on fear. We fear for our lives, our freedom, our health, our earth's health, our happiness... A recent study showed antidepressants are the most popular drug in the U.S. This is alarming and not surprising and dims our future light a bit, don't you think? Something perceptually shifts beneath our feet. Joshua Clover, as so many others, pokes at our “blindered view of the future,” so, shall we, consider philosophy's idea that our existence belongs to those who respond with angst? Heather McHugh, Thomas Lux, Michael Ryan and others have written about angst and authenticity, perhaps a more familiar breeding ground for poets, theoretical physicists and artists. At Sarah Lawrence College I remember the stories: Plath's empowerment with her angst and anger with her own subconscious; John Berryman being too drunk to speak, yet suddenly "sober" on stage when ready to read; Theodore Roethke's battle with depression, a pair of pants found under the books and papers on his desk, etc., etc., and etc. The Urban Dictionary tells us angst is a brooding "transcendent emotion " and "An 'Angst Culture' is also rising in the Scandinavia, where more and more people become 'Angst.' " Transcendent, transgressive? Personal angst (health failing, grief, loss of financial ability to survive, etc.) , collective angst (war, environmental destruction, social/cultural pressures...) has come together in language, language alive in an urgent need to move, to translate. James Wright told us he "wasted" his life; Sharon Olds knew the sorrow of family, the soul like a tiny hotel soap slipped between her ribs; Sappho's love shook her heart, " Without warning / as a whirlwind / swoops on an oak" ; Lorca's duende called forth "black sounds," brute beauty, the "phosphorescent green anemones" of the soul, the "crushed grass" beneath our feet. Somehow, these days, can it seem our angst is less existential, less forgivable? A. Alvarez's old book, Savage God, "The Art of Suicide" echoes Ophelia's "I was the more deceiv'd" and Hopkin's "But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me/ Thy wring-world right foot rock?", and all that comes with the risk of being alive amidst adversity, real and imagined.
"Bear those ills we have" (Hamlet) with discourse's energy? With imagination's energy? (see Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare 1781 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nightmare) For the sake of this blog, I'd like to bring forth just a few poets who recently speak to us on this subject, who come into view from the subtext-mind: poets Cathy Colman, Amy Newlove Schroeder, Marcia Cohee, Lucie Brock-Broido, Lucia Perillo, Sholeh Wolpe, and Floyd Skloot are, like Virginia Woolf, "writing to a rhythm" that begins in the distressed mind and body.
Pain and anxiety wrangle in the same bed of "otherness." Poet and translator Sholeh Wolpe (The Scar Saloon & Rooftops of Tehran, Red Hen Press, 2004 & 2008; Sin, Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhazad, University of Arkansas Press, 2007) foreground-feels Lorca's idea of the duende, ignites simultaneity between sorrow and joy, and enters the body of alienation in order to speak and be heard:
But mark this— I do not belong anywhere.
I have an accent in every language I speak.
Cathy Colman's first book, Borrowed Dress, which won the Felix Pollak Prize, chosen by Mark Doty, gave us unexpected beauty within the myriad contexts of insight and philosophy, art and personal intimacy. Her fabulous forthcoming second book, Beauty's Tattoo (Tebot Bach, 2009) includes some poems that view illness which creates an exiled "other" self . The first poem, "Half-Life: Postcard To Atom," opens the metaphorical trap door, not to the basement or attic, but to the sky:
I’ll tell you what I’ve inherited: years that go in both directions./
There is no salt divinity here, no rain.
All night I dream of a new body.
not next to me, but my own.
The by-product of this struggle is a profound eloquence. Colman addresses this by telling us we are our own rescuers in her poem "Letter To A Stranger" :
and you’re calling to yourself
before you die of exposure, “Over here,”
just over this bridge’s sudden amnesia,
“I’m over here.”
Another wonderful Californian poet, Amy Newlove Schroeder,(the new 2009 Field Prize winner with her book Sleep Hotel) like Cathy Colman, takes personal angst as the fractured self to task by bringing it into the universal realm of what makes us authentic. Here's a seized moment that comes from darkness, what Randall Jarrell called, "darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness./ And we call it wisdom. It is pain."
Stolen from the Night Factory
nights were the worst—
I was not hollowed out—I was belled
gazing out the window at the empty branches of the imago tree
my brain a rising sun over a blasted horizon
the steel-wool conviction of it
interrupted capital, interrupted stream—a dam in my mind
all closed, all fired, all friendless and stupefied
not even the covered wagon of days to come—
I want to end with Lucie Brock-Broido's poem-excerpt, "How Can It Be I Am No Longer I" which energizes what is lost by what is found:
I was a flint
To bliss & barbarous, a bristling
Of tracks like a starfish carved on his inner arm,
A tindering of tissue, a reliquary, twinned.
That I would be--- ... fanatic against
Let us bliss-back into ourselves through language. Let us be fanatic in our writing, against all things vanishing!