One regret, dear world
That I am determined not to have
When I am lying on my deathbed
I did not kiss you enough.
One regret, dear world
That I am determined not to have
When I am lying on my deathbed
I did not kiss you enough.
“Imagine Jack Micheline, half pint riding the left hip pocket of his holy corduroys, walking sunset, one arm around the sky, the other around the Earth, as he rages against The Clowns who’ve denied The Poet’s Blood—then get a firm grip on your soul, bust the cover of the Outlaw Bible and let the century gush.”*
– Wanda Coleman, poet, activist, author, from Bathwater Wine
About Coleman: http://journals.openedition.org/ideas/1422
*epigraph, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, ed. by Alan Kauffman (Basic Books, 1999)
In 1800, when William Wordsworth rejected Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Christabel’ from the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, it precipitated a crisis of creativity for Coleridge. It would be another sixteen years before ‘Christabel’ was finally published in Sibylline Leaves, aptly-named, for Coleridge’s poetry is curiously prescient, particularly in his representation of women as portents of his own fear of failure.
This essay will examine how Coleridge’s imagination is driven by this fear of failure, the extent to which the women in his poetry are polarised, and the power they hold over speech, both to inspire and suppress. In ‘The Eolian Harp’ and ‘Kubla Khan’ I will examine the conflict between the earthly and the transcendental and the emergence of the Abyssinian maid as muse, with the idea that Coleridge sacrifices himself to her power. I will show how the fear of failure becomes represented as an inability to speak in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, and how polarisation of women appears in the form of ‘Heaven’s Mother’ and ‘Life-in-Death’. Rituals of crime and punishment in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ illustrate the implicit symbolic violence of Coleridge’s imagination that exists beyond the threshold of consciousness.
The motif of thresholds is further explored in ‘Christabel’, which I will link with the Gothic symbolism that Coleridge employs to demonstrate the effects of evil on innocence; here Geraldine is the ultimate seducer in Coleridge’s pantheon of female representations, a lamia-like figure with hypnotic powers. Finally, in ‘Dejection: An Ode’, I will argue how, by acknowledging his loss of the transforming power of the imagination, this loss becomes transformed into a presence that enables Coleridge to explore his creative failure.
J.B. Beer, who describes Coleridge as a ‘visionary’, writes: ‘at times, he hoped to discover the ideal woman, who should be his inspiration; and at times the “Ideal woman” became, like Solomon’s Beloved, or the celestial bride of Jacob Boehme, the image of a psychological state – the recovery of Wisdom and the lost Shechinah’. (1) (Beer 1959, 270)
If Coleridge’s women represent a sense of divine knowledge, such as the sibyls of antiquity or the Abyssinian maid, they also represent the polar extreme of evil intention, like the intimidating Life-in-Death and the hypnotic Geraldine. Conflict between active and passive is intrinsic to the dynamics of Coleridge’s poetry and represents the competing desires for freedom and engulfment. Camille Paglia argues that ‘Coleridge’s protagonists are always sexually dual…The poet is feminine because passive to his own vision’. (Paglia 1991, 328-9) For the poet to abandon himself to his muse involves a form of active submission, and beneath the passive surface there is deep mental activity; consequently, the movement in Coleridge’s poetry oscillates between the doing and being done to, and it is hard to be sure who is ultimately in control.
Before I’m lost to time and the midwest
I want to say I was here
I loved the half light all winter
I want you to know before I leave
that I liked the towns living along the back of the Mississippi
I loved the large heron filling the sky
the slender white egret at the edge of the shore
I came to love my life here
fell in love with the color grey
the unending turn of seasons
Let me say
I loved Hill City
the bench in front of the tavern
the small hill to the lake
I loved the morning frost on the bell at New Albin
and the money I made as a poet
I was thankful for the white night
the sky of so many wet summers
Before I leave this world of my friends
I want to tell you I loved the rain on large store windows
had more croissants here in Minneapolis
than the French do in Lyons
I read the poets of the midwest
their hard crusts of bread dark goat cheese
and was nourished not hungry where they lived
I ate at the edges of state lines and boundaries
Know I loved the cold tap of bare branches against the windows
know there there will not be your peonies in spring
wherever I go
the electric petunias
and your orange zinnias
– Natalie Goldberg
(from Good Poems, American Places, Selected and Introduced by Garrison Keillor, as heard on The Writer’s Almanac; Penguin, 2012)
(Originally published in Top of My Lungs, Poems and Paintings by Natalie Goldberg, Overlook Press, 2002)
Rain leans into its
Falling; every struck
Surface sings, a
Needle-song of plinks
and plings. And
Hollow things pull
Apart—red and naked
Like a heart.
Accept this rain-washed
Art. Every stroke
Untethers hope and
Flings it, flying,
Toward the Sun.
There is nothing that
Heaviness falls, the
Like Sin, wheeling.
Summer, now, a
Dream of crisper air.
Heft and harrow disappear.
Languish like stars on the
Roof of my car. And
Light’s promise is
Crawling, like a
Thief at night,
Mick A. Quinn
Lone Tree, Colorado
August 24, 2017
(C)2017 by Mick A. Quinn. All Rights Reserved.
‘I’m embarrassed by how long I resisted Emily Dickinson’s “Complete Poems,” and I’m struck by how much my copy means to me now. As a daft young punk I too often sought out reckless emotion and vulgar effects, the same way one sometimes wants, when callow and feckless, to date a person with obvious physical attributes. Dickinson’s famous line — “I’m nobody! Who are you?” — is not what you want to hear when you are younger than 30, or, in my delayed maturity, closer to 40. It should have helped, but did not, when one of my favorite high school English teachers, Donald Glancy, explained that you could sing nearly all of Dickinson’s verse to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”
I keep a commonplace book, a place where I write down passages that matter to me from the books I read. It’s packed with Dickinson, from her poems and her letters. These lines come to me, in my daily life, both in their intended contexts and quite far out of them. She explains why we read: “I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” She underscores my sense of what it is like to watch cable news: “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.”
She suggests what I am thinking when I order a Negroni:
“Bring me the sunset in a cup.” She catches why gay marriage took so long: “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind.” Her sarcasm rings down the ages: “They say that ‘home is where the heart is.’ I think it is where the house is, and the adjacent buildings.”
Few writers circled religion with more wary alertness: “They say that God is everywhere,” she said, “and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse.” She wrote: “The only commandment I ever obeyed — ‘Consider the Lilies.’ ” And:
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church;
I keep it, staying at Home,
With a Bobolink for a Chorister,
And an Orchard, for a Dome.
I could not stop for Emily Dickinson, but she kindly stopped for me. Her raw, spare, intense poetry was written as if carved into a desktop. Now that I am older and somewhat wiser, what I prize about Dickinson is that she lives up to her own observation:
“Truth is so rare, it is delightful to tell it.”
(from an article by Dwight Garneraug published in The New Yorker, August 2015)
One August afternoon, Michael and Matthew Dickman boarded a bus in Lents, the working-class neighborhood in southeast Portland, Oregon, where they grew up. Michael, who is six feet one and a half inches, with pale, freckled skin, sandy hair, and blue-green eyes behind glasses, and who was wearing a frayed blue shirt and a blue sun hat, slid into a seat toward the back of the bus. Matthew, who is six feet two, with pale, freckled skin, sandy hair, and blue-green eyes behind glasses, and who was wearing a black T-shirt, sank into a seat close by. It was hot outside, and the bus, which was headed downtown, offered refuge from the arid intersection where they had been waiting: Ninety-second and Foster, where a junk-filled antique store with “Closing Down” signs in its windows faced off against the New Copper Penny, an establishment that offered ladies’ nights, and was considerably more tarnished than its name suggested.
The bus had barely swung into traffic when a stocky woman in shorts, with stringy, bleached hair, got up from her seat and stumbled toward Michael, clutching a Big Gulp. “I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, grasping a pole near Michael for support. “But are you guys twins?”
It is a question that the Dickmans are used to hearing, though it seems to be asked ritualistically, rather than in a genuine spirit of inquiry: the brothers, who are thirty-three, are each other’s double, but for that half inch in height, and for slight, shifting distinctions in body weight, haircut, and eyewear. (Matthew currently favors glasses with squared-off black rims; Michael’s glasses, which have dark-brown rims, are marginally more ovoid.)
“You’re so cute!” the woman on the bus said, gazing at the brothers.
“He’s cuter,” Matthew replied, with practiced graciousness.
Eventually, the woman returned to her seat, and started discussing twins with the driver. “They’re telepathic, you know,” she said. Several other passengers turned to assess the brothers, who bore the scrutiny of delighted strangers with the resigned equanimity typically shown by famous actors who have forgone Bel Air sequestration.
Michael and Matthew Dickman are poets, and though the subject matter of each is varied, they often draw from a similar well of images and experiences: the rough neighborhood of their youth, with its violent fathers, beleaguered mothers, and reckless, neglected kids. Their verse, though, is strikingly different. Michael’s poems are interior, fragmentary, and austere, often stripped down to single-word lines; they seethe with incipient violence. Matthew’s are effusive, ecstatic, and all-embracing, spilling over with pop-cultural references and exuberant carnality. “Kings,” which appears in Michael Dickman’s first collection, “The End of the West,” just published by Copper Canyon, describes the twins’ contemporaries in Lents, exalted and downtrodden:
They used to be good at being alive,
pointing their index fingers at
the trees, passing
knighting the birds
one by one
All down my street the new fathers
beat the kingness
In “Lents District,” which appears in “All-American Poem,” a collection published this past fall, Matthew Dickman also memorializes the neighborhood:
Dear Lents, dear 82nd avenue, dear 92nd and Foster,
I am your strange son.
You saved me when I needed saving,
your arms wrapped around
my bassinet like patrol cars wrapped around
the school yard
the night Jason went crazy—
waving his father’s gun above his head,
bathed in red and blue flashing lights,
all-American, broken in half and beautiful.
In Michael’s poems, a lot of things are described as dead: a cigar, hair, friends. In Matthew’s poems, hurried sexual encounters upstairs at parties recur. (“And probably not with the same girl,” Carl Adamshick, another Portland poet and a friend of the brothers, says.) Reading Michael is like stepping out of an overheated apartment building to be met, unexpectedly, by an exhilaratingly chill gust of wind; reading Matthew is like taking a deep, warm bath with a glass of wine balanced on the soap dish. “There’s something of the pugilist in Michael,” Major Jackson, another poet friend of the brothers, says. “There is something hard-edged and tough about the speakers in his poems. Matthew has such a big heart; he has very lush, surprising turns in his work.” The poet Dorianne Laux, who has been a mentor to both Dickmans, says, “Michael is a Nureyev—each movement is articulated—but Matthew is a whirling dervish.”