Ann Lauterbach, poet and educator, is the author of The Night Sky: Writings on the Poetics of Experience. As is usually the case, her insights about poetry and poetry writing apply to other forms of expression as well. (I regularly rely on poets to articulate what I find so hard to verbalize.)
I don’t know if this is a technique that works for you, but the right book somehow rises to the top of my stack or falls off the shelf at an opportune moment. Open it up, and there is something that speaks to life at that particular moment. My erudite and book loving niece Rebecca Ricks recommended Night Sky to me several years ago, so I read the collection and left my markings on its pages before putting it on the shelf. This morning I was thinking about the show at Chautauqua that came down this week and about the paintings that have found new homes, and there was Lauterbach’s book sitting there ready to be re-engaged. A few phrases immediately jumped out at me, like the difference between seeing from the periphery rather than the center, and how the whole fragment (what a great term!) can be embraced.
These were the passages that spoke to me this morning which I hope find resonance with you too.
To write poetry in America is in itself a subversive act, a refutation of, and resistance to, certain assumptions about what constitutes “the public” and its interests.
Poetry protects language from serving any master.
One can see better from the periphery than from the center.
My fear is that my fragments of knowledge are just bits and pieces with too many unbridgeable gaps between them.
And so, in defense, I have come to celebrate the whole fragment.
Linear argument, where one thing leads ineluctably to another, is of profound practical and rhetorical value, but necessarily it discourages vicissitude and ephemera, ambivalence and dead ends, ruminations that suggest a different mental economy, one that could affect conclusions beyond the restraint of reasoning logic.
The crucial job of artists is to find a way to release materials into the animated middle ground between subjects, and so to initiate the difficult but joyful process of human connection.
Art serves no practical purpose, but to engage with it fully is to acknowledge the (pleasurable, if often difficult) consequences of choice at the crux of human agency.