As with last week, I’ll begin this post with some great personal news: the Emerging Writers’ Festival has selected me as one of two writers to be sent on a Cultural Exchange program to the Bali Emerging Writers’ Festival in Indonesia, in a few weeks’ time. I did a quick Q&A with them earlier today, which you can read here if you’re interested. Needless to say, I can’t wait to get over there and meet new people, make new connections, and learn a great deal.
This week’s poem is Over and Over Stitch by Jorie Graham, who I had the pleasure to hear read live last year at the New Yorker festival. I read this a few days ago, and I’ve had it tumbling around in my head ever since. This is a poem loaded with resignation and reluctance, trembling on the edge of precipitous change, one resisted at all costs. It begins:
Late in the season the world digs in, the fat blossomshold still for just a moment longer.Nothing looks satisfied,but there is no real reason to move on much further:this isn’t a bad place;why not pretendwe wished for it?
The tone and theme are set up immediately in that first line, with the world digging in late in the season. Change is waiting, change is constant, yet it is late and the world is not giving in to it yet. Honestly, I could talk forever about those first seven lines, never mind the rest of it. It says so much without seeming to even try; the hallmark of great writing.
‘This isn’t a bad place;/why not pretend/we wished for it?’ This line, in particular, kills me. Why can’t you be happy with your lot, why must we be forever dissatisfied? Forever looking over our fence, forever wondering if we’ve done enough, forever busy wasting emotion and time and energy being resentful of what we don’t have and of those who might have more. This line reminds me of another from the recent Oscar-nominated film Whiplash, in which J. K. Simmons’ character says something to the effect of, ‘there are no two worse words in the English language than “good job”.’
He, like all of us, seeks greatness. Being satisfied with good is anathema to him; complacency kills the artist, whether the artist is aware of it or not. Graham, here, is hardly talking about the artistic process, her net is broader and more encompassing than that, but nonetheless, she angles in the opposite direction.
To have experienced joyas the mere lifting of hungeris not to have known itless.
One could argue that the lifting of hunger, while the simplest joy, brings about the most intense experience of it – one we lucky few take for granted, perhaps inured to it by repetition – but that is not what Graham does here. She is not setting it up in competition with any other joy, no matter how rare the achievement or experience which sparks it, she is instead saying they are qualitatively the same. Joy is the great leveller.
There are moments in our lives which, threaded, give us heaven—noon, for instance, or all the single victoriesof gravity
The poet, having personified the world as reluctant, stubborn and sullen, is urging it/us to consider the miracles of the every day; the miracle of not being hungry, the divinity of noon, the wonder of gravity being just right constantly, without which we would be crushed prone or else lost to space, or any other number of horrible fates. This is a simple but powerful message, delivered with exacting skill, with consummate wisdom. Graham reminds us, too, that no matter how bad things seem now – to set us so at odds with the world, with the season, to have us digging in our haunches – “nothing again will ever be this easy”.
It’s a reminder I desperately needed this week. As bad as things are for me financially, as difficult as I’m finding the increased attention to my work, I am phenomenally lucky; I still have my health, my mind; I am still willing and able and physically capable of doing everything I want to do. Time will gradually rob me of these things, and nothing again will ever be this easy. It’s a difficult truth to swallow, but it is of vital importance that I remember to enjoy this moment, one of many which, if threaded together, make up heaven.
You can read this beautiful poem here.