The necessary betrayal of abstraction

I have a graduate degree in Literature, and part of obtaining that degree meant taking poetry seminars. In one of those seminars, we did a section on Gertrude Stein.

I’m not sure what to do with Gertrude Stein. We had to read Tender Buttons, and I recall dreading going to class because I just wasn’t sure what to say. Luckily I had a classmate who did engage well with Stein’s work, and carried us a bit – I recall talking about Stein’s poetic formlessness as a type of resistance.

Here’s a snippet from Tender Buttons:

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It’s been nearly 12 years since I read this for the first time, and I still have no idea what to do with it.

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“I came to explore the wreck”

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Adrienne Rich’s poem Diving Into the Wreck is among my absolute favorite poems – so much so that I have three lines from it tattooed on my ribcage. I think what I like best about it is that it works on so many different levels, and continues to take on new meaning each time I read it.

If you’re not familiar, you can read it here.

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Nachtbegeisterung

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Once upon a time I was in a graduate Literature program, in which I was introduced to the German poet Novalis, and this work written after the death of his fiance, Sophie von Kuhn, at the age of 15.

A lot of things are interesting about Novalis – particularly that he fell in love with his fiance when he was 22 and she was only 12, as the story goes, after seeing her out with her parents. They became engaged on her 13th birthday.

Though some of his friends attempted to praise her beauty, Sophie was apparently neither particularly beautiful nor particularly intelligent (as her own diaries seem to show) and many have wondered what it was that drew the poet to this seemingly ordinary, bland young girl. Yet Novalis saw *something* in Sophie that no one else seemed to see – whether it was some subtle spark that others tended to miss, or whether he merely built her up within his own imagination, remains lost to time.

But what gets me every time I read passage this is the footnote to the word “nachtbegeisterung,” translated as Night-Inspiration. It could also (I think) be translated to Night-Rapture. This word comes after the poet describes freeing himself from “Light’s chains” – inversing the binary of light/good vs. dark/bad. Night brings about transformation, and reunion with the beloved.

Nachtbegeisterung. I love that.

“Every choice is a loss”

I was going through some bookmarks that I haven’t looked at in a while, and came across a poem called The Cello by Ruth Padel. It’s an amazing poem as a whole, but these lines were the reason why I bookmarked it:

Every choice is a loss. The past is not where you left it. That corridor you didn’t follow, the gate to unknown woods, shadow grin of a winding stair, the door you never found time to open—they whirl within, cracking the floor.

Every choice is a loss is such a simple yet such a profoundly true idea. Every decision we make means that there are decisions we didn’t make…and sometimes the decisions we make can’t be unmade, and decisions we didn’t make don’t always stick around and allow us to have a second chance.

Every choice is truly a loss…but there’s something empowering about that.

“Beauty likes neglected places”

I chose the handle Neglected Places after a quote from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue. It stuck with me over the years because of something O’Donohue points out – that beauty in modern culture has been standardized and has become a product. As soon as I read that, way back in the late 90s when I was just a teenager, I thought…yes, that’s exactly how I feel.

This applies to the beauty of people, of course, but also of places. I find ruins and abandoned buildings more beautiful than anything. I like wild, overgrown places more than cultivated gardens. I find a lot of beauty in the organic and the disordered.

O’Donohue’s book encourages people to “inhabit your solitude fully,” which I’m not only good at doing, but rather enjoy. He points out that our outward persona is only that which we put on to get through our day, but that our true selves are somewhere else – somewhere in solitude. I cannot agree with this more. People move through the world wearing different masks, but it’s only when we’re alone that all the masks can truly come off.

I decided to migrate to this new URL not only in honor of this quote I’ve loved and lived by for years, but also so that I can take off some of the masks I was wearing while using my former handle.

I’m the same person…just maybe a little more honest, and with a little more direction.