Process Notes: Little of What We have Believed has been True

85º feels like 94º ~ dew point 75º (in other words, unless you’ve lived in the mid to deep south, you’ve never really felt humidity) ~ sunny but the trees are so fully leafed and green that I write in shade, the birds call out all day, the cat begs attention

This morning when I sat down to write, I was thinking about writing from headlines, as I did yesterday. Again, I’d checked into the world via my phone before even getting out of bed (I know, I know, this is not necessarily a good habit!). Sure enough, a friend had posted about an event at the White House yesterday, where four astronauts were present, but only the three men were thanked. Sounded like a good lead, so I went in search of information. Turns out the bigger news was what a weird press conference it was, and the woman astronaut, Sandy Magnus, presented a reasonable explanation of why she was not thanked (not there as an astronaut but as an executive director for another organization). So, that fizzled.

I turned then to my email inbox and read the poems there for the day (Poem-a-Day, Poetry Foundation, Writer’s Almanac), which then led me to reading my weekly dose of Brain Pickingswhich featured a refresher on Wallace Stevens’ The Necessary Angel, and seemed a moment of synchronicity as Stevens wrote about the role of the poet (his word for all artists) in troubled times. I fell headlong into the excerpts provided by Brain Pickings, having read Necessary Angel 15 years ago and having been stumped by much of it (I have trouble absorbing philosophy & theory). In any case, this time, I couldn’t stop taking notes and making connections. Two of the biggest lines for me were “events…have made the ordinary movement of life seem to be the movement of people in the intervals of a storm” (ellipses mine) and “Little of what we have believed has been true…” (ellipses Stevens).

With five pages of notes, I thought, yes! This is it for today’s draft. Come on: intervals of a storm? Yes! I even thought that I had so much energy for the draft that I didn’t need to start in longhand, so I turned directly to Word and started typing. Big mistake. I typed several really terrible lines and deleted them. Tried another tack and deleted those, too. It all sounded like propaganda, and none of it was based in my reality. So, I took a deep breath and went back to my handwritten lines in the journal, and I asked myself to “tell the truth.”

Stevens sees the artist as the “necessary angel” who can meld imagination and reality, that the artist should not turn away from reality, not escape it by going fully into the imagination. On the other hand, Stevens also notes that the imagination is necessary to the artist, and they can’t turn completely to reality either. In thinking about all of this and asking what my truth is, I discovered, again, my white, upper-middle class guilt about my ability to turn off the news, to move through the storm unafraid for my own life, afraid for the lives of many of my friends for sure, but not for my own. I started thinking about what causes me to avoid the truth, and I struck on this.

Body & brain are wired to walk away
from pain. Sharp & Hot among the first
lessons.

The poem goes on, in lines about this same length, to admit that I “evade the daily news,” but that I can’t completely escape the horrors going on all around me (in which I also include climate change). Obviously, Stevens is in the title, and I bring him back in the last third of the poem when I claim, “I never asked / to wear the wings of a necessary angel.” I confess that I’m exhausted and that I don’t know where to find the energy to resist. I think the ending needs work, but I’m happy with the draft, both content and form. In this case, I have another single-stanza poem (so unusual for me!) because the poem, while still lyric rather than narrative (as is my norm), works on a much more logic-based level than I have in the past. The syntax is normal, and the sentences all directly relate to the previous and the next. Who am I? Sonnets and villanelles in May/June, now column-like, single-stanza work? Through it all, the elements of sound and imagery hold me together and channel my voice.

Posted by Sandy Longhorn

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