Cycles & theories

The Chinese lunisolar calendar puts us between 立秋 lìqiū, or start of autumn, and 處暑 chùshǔ, or limit of heat. Certainly the heat here lately has felt limiting, but the term more likely refers to the end of the hottest days of the year. My backyard world fills with haiku imagery for waning summer and impending autumn: katydid and annual cicada calls, birds starting to flock, morning glory and goldenrod, ripe pears, apples beginning to redden, hosts of butterflies. I watch as a hummingbird visits sunflowers, cannas, buddleia, corn tassels, and zinnias. Ripe tomatoes and zucchini weigh heavily on their vines.

Yesterday, a doe nibbled pears while her late-born twin fawns wove between her legs and the Queen Anne’s lace beneath the tree. The air hangs so humid, even the monarch butterfly’s wings seem to droop. A sense of waiting.

And I prepare for the fall semester. Cycles continue: that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

~

Therefore, to engage my intellect when my expressive ability with words seems sparse, I’m reading about theory. Specifically, the theory of the lyric in Western poetics, which turns out to be abstract and scholarly (no surprise, really–theory tends to be scholarly). My guide for this outing is Jonathan Culler’s book Theory of the Lyric. This text manages to be relatively readable despite its terminology; and as the terminology for the lyrical poem encompasses a long history of definitions, rhetoric, explanations, subgenres, and antiquated jargon, the going occasionally gets tough. I’m learning a great deal, however, about poetic experimentation over the centuries.

I now recognize that I have subsumed the idea of lyricism as it came down to American writers through Romanticism (see Hegel). It’s just that the concept of subjectivity in the lyric, and inward-turning emotion and the poet as speaker, has been so pervasive in Western poetics and pedagogy that it seemed a basic premise. Yet it was not always thus, and certainly other cultures employ lyricism differently and view it differently. It’s never an easy task to view from outside what is inherent in one’s own culture, but that’s where books like this one enlighten and challenge.

Besides the theory and historicity of poetry and the task of poetics, however esoteric and abstract, theory texts often elicit from me the urge to move to something more concrete, more creative.

I can only hope.

Perspectives

Snow lies on the grass and the fields, freezes, shoved into huge piles graying with macadam and gravel, trash and mud. Winter abides but only just; even with the cold snap, I sense a kind of anticipatory nudge toward warmer hours and longer days. It gets me thinking about my perspective on seasons. The lunisolar calendar I mentioned in a previous post seems more appropriate to my experience than the Gregorian, and perhaps the reason is that NongLi originated as, and essentially remains, an agricultural calendar.

The Things of This World

The things of this world that matter
are of a personal nature: redpolls
and ovenbirds, tidal waters, the sounds
of freight trains hurtling heavily on rails,
horns wailing; rattle-clap thunder;
patterns lace leaves when pressed
against the inner thigh; and justice.

The things that matter always matter
mostly from one perspective
which varies from yours to mine,
solid to liquid, season, valley, treetop,
galaxy, gorge, gray matter, anti-
matter, energy. The things of this world
depend on the heuristics what and how:

how we define this world, how define
what matters and what makes things yours
or mine: my mushrooms, my macaroons,
my highway, spring light, continental
shelf, hummingbird, suspension bridge,
my mountain, my miracle, mine

~~

scoot window

Human beings can hardly avoid seeing things from a human perspective, though human perspectives can differ vastly. But we do have the knee-jerk tendency to view other beings as “ours.” The Judeo-Christian biblical approach basically states that God gave us everything, and it’s ours to eat and to command; some interpretations temper that statement as stewardship rather than ownership, but just read Genesis 1:28-30 in the King James version–

 

 

 

…and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

Which perspective I’m illustrating in the poem above. The poem’s speaker aggregates everything into the personal construct of ownership: what is owned is what matters. Implications of greed, of personal views on justice, of personal definitions (how points of view get tainted as they run through human beings’ individual filters)–those abstract ideas the poem tries to convey through the concrete images of animals, sounds, foodstuffs, geology.

The first-person possessive pronoun permits English speakers to colonize the cosmos. Often, I catch myself in claiming “mine.” My house, my meadow, my cat, my children! As if I could actually own any of them (although I possess a piece of paper that asserts that I own my house, sometimes I have my doubts). I did not intend, when I started writing this poem, to remind myself not to go about “making it all about me.” But it does serve as a reminder. And I think a few of us human beings ought to be more aware that our tendency to hoard and claim may not serve us, or the world, all that well.

finches-fall1

Goldfinches in winter attire