There are connections in poetry quite independent of time, or rather of chronological time. I see these independent connections as little surprising electricities that shock the mind whenever we allow the mind the space to be shocked by small, stabbing connections. - Brendan Kennelly
Where are you going to live? What will you be doing? How will you earn your living?
Before I left the United States, many asked me why I was going; now that I’m here in Italy, many ask what I am doing. Friends and family have suggested, implored, and/or demanded that I: collect recipes; investigate ruins, museums, travel routes; write a book; photograph baseball stadiums and fruit stands; find a wife; learn Italian; join the Freemasons; escape the hustle and bustle; buy a custom-made bicycle; recommend cheeses, wines, prosciutto, pizza toppings; create international guest accommodation opportunities; and, neither least nor last, live life for once. That’s all fine and good, but what am I looking for?
Poetry, as always, among other things.
Robert Frost, from Lawrence, Massachusetts, hard by the side of my hometown wrote a poem that has been on my mind of late. While the leaves are beginning to yellow and I am on a path less traveled by, I have been thinking instead of “Into My Own.”
“Only more sure of all I thought was true.”
Bici vecchia. I am more sure than before of writing and bicycles. Writing this blog is a start. Bicycles, as I started to describe earlier, are a central aspect of Italian life and a crowning technological achievement. I just returned from a ride to the town library on my 1/10 horsepower steel horse. If I drank gasoline, I could travel at a rate of 1,400 miles to the gallon. As Wendell Berry noted so eloquently, bicycles and other human-powered technologies ultimately run on solar energy. My panels this morning were an apple and a chocolate brioche (unfortunately not as good as one from Zabar’s). While easy to forget, the plants we eat grow from the earth thanks to the sun and the animals we eat in turn eat plants and other animals. [I’ll leave aside discussions of industrial farms.] There can be poetry in self-locomotion and simplicity.
Eric Bende, in his wonderful book Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, describes simple joys available when technology is selectively avoided. He writes, “In true leisure there is mastery. If the enemy of self-direction was passion and impulse, its ally was quiet repose, mindfulness, perceptivity. Yet the act of reflection transcended the rational; it followed a course that could not be entirely foreseen, yielding conclusions that could not be reached if too deliberately pursued.”
Both Berry and Bende traffic in “little surprising electricities” that reveal deeper, unsurprising connections. Like a pair of shoes that fit well right out of the box, their words are new and familiar at the same time. Less can be more. Questions can be more valuable than answers. I can relax without feeling lazy. While I am living a privileged life that would be impossible to extrapolate for large numbers of people, the lotus that I am eating can be shared. Bike to Work day? (or week or month or?) R-E-A-D-A-B-O-O-K of poetry instead of watching the TV? Allowing ourselves to be shocked?
My current situation, our current situation, requires new ways of thinking and looking. A once and future theme: change and balance. Wu wei. Man zou. Gelassenheit.