Friday, October 28, 2011

Career Path

The Poet

To suddenly perceive the world as if it were something you had never seen before, and to grasp for an instant, mutely enduring the shock of total comprehension, the outrageous unlikelihood of being here to witness it, and of its being there at all this is a matter of grace, but also a cruel and conditional ecstasy, one no mental effort can prolong, one that in fact consists of the grievous poignancy with which it bleeds away, fading and vanishing almost before it has fully begun, lasting only long enough to leave you with the familiar sense of missing out on something, raised to a more desolate power by the discovery of what it is. Look at this staggering sight – new leaves shining with a light that's come here from the sun. Even if they can't recall it, or outright deny it, everyone knows of this eerie event for which they found no name. But how many will spend their days readying themselves for what may well never recur; how many will devote the rest of their lives to the preposterous discipline of waiting, waiting and maintaining constant vigilance for a glimpse of what they can no longer see; of inwardly orienting themselves to a direction that does not exist. And who among them will gradually shed, year by year, every vestige or hope of a place in the world, becoming increasingly familiar with the taste of fear? This is no occupation for an adult who can look other adults in the eye, carry his own weight, and count himself one of them. I just don't understand how a grown man could spend his time doing something like writing poetry. This was not a career, this was a fate, a disaster. Hand in hand the blind child and his mother stand admiring the new cherry blossoms forever because someone spent his life watching for them, and preparing to endure once again a condition of illumination, then exercising the mastery that enabled him to store it in its purest form for the benefit of others, most of whom were not yet born, before moving on, exhausted and ill, and by now without even the hope of returning to rest in the comfort of the little house his friends had made available, dear to him once and now, in his feverish delirium, comfortably surrounding and sheltering him once again like the bronze shell of the snail that has blindly strayed from the tall grass to cross a damp dirt road and intersect, as it was born to, with the great wheel getting closer. And if, in spite of having perished of old age at forty-nine over three centuries ago while making his way on foot across the fields and mountains of Japan, Matsuo Bashō were to appear in this country of millions of aging adolescents on the first day of class, in need of an advanced degree, having lost his or used it to make a small fire in another time, chances are only one of his classmates would ever have heard of him, the one who never raises her hand, I'll bet, stunned into smiling for the first time in history and hurriedly making a place for him next to her.

from Kindertotenwald : Prose Poems / by Franz Wright
(New York : Knopf, 2011)

Personally I would never start any poem –not even a prose poem like this one – with a split infinitive, but that may well be why I am not a Pulitzer Prize winner and Franz Wright is. There are friends of mine who will be surprised to see me featuring his work here because they have often in the past heard me mocking the snarling artistic persona cultivated by this famous literary man, son of a famous literary man, who always manages to sound as if his life of privilege and success is really a life of misery and privation, which has in the past seemed to me like having your cake and eating it too in a particularly self-indulgent way. But hey, I like this book. Maybe Franz Wright at last has convinced me that he deserves to be as unhappy as he claims to be.