Language Artist

When I was teaching, I tried to induce among my students a functional understanding of the distinction between “lay” and “lie,” or between “who” and “whom.” I tried to show them the advantage of learning grammar and using a dictionary. But many of even the most intelligent writers in my graduate workshops, and for that matter many of my colleagues on the teaching staff, could not take it in. Why? they would say. What’s the difference?

When I told them that love and devotion are the root of it, they merely looked askance.

You choose correctly between “street car,” “street-car,” and “streetcar” not because the choice makes a substantive difference—it doesn’t—but because you care for language, you are in love with it. A good carpenter cleans and puts away his tools properly, so does a good gardener or a good cook, and no one will ever convince me that a worker who ignores his tools will do satisfactory work.

–Hayden Carruth, Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays

Like Carruth, I choose my words carefully. As a writer, I’m imperfect but never sloppy. Every human(e) word I use, in the end, is the Word of God. In my writing, however, I’m not seeking the Truth but speaking my truths.

Beyond Words

In Words Fail: Theology, Poetry, and the Challenge of Representation, Colby Dickinson argues that language allows us to speak about a thing, but language never leads us to “the ‘thing itself’—the as such-ness of a thing beyond its linguistically codified and intelligible form” (43). We are left with imperfect representations of things that fail us.

Earlier in his book Dickinson asks this profound question: “How indeed, we might add, would one begin to live as if they knew an intimacy forever beyond our ability to represent it (as in cases involving death) and yet find themselves living in a flesh, with its age and its sorrow, that is, at times, simply all too present?” (25).

Would I live my life differently if I knew for certain that a Great Beyond exists beyond words, beyond my life? Could I ever visit, ahead of time, an afterlife awaiting me before I die?

The ultimate illusion, a depth-defying feat: to take a leave of presence, disappear to a traceless place beyond representation, then re-present myself as myself right before my varied eyes.

In A Bad Brood

Writing about my depression briefly relieves my pain. The moment I describe what I’m feeling, I no longer feel (as) depressed.

As we say, write or read a word—the second we “have it”—the word slips away along with its meaning. I write down “depression”; depression and its meaning(lessness) slip my mind, only to return.

A pessimist might argue that writing about depression is a symptom of my depression. I say that as long as I’m writing about something I’m not lying in bed all day in a bad brood.

Testing The Limits Of Logic

I’ve been helping my niece study for the English and reading portions of the ACT. She asked me why she’s being tested this way. “I don’t think like this every day,” she said. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of a lesson on logic—specifically, why colleges value a carefully crafted analytic approach.

The world is full of problems. People prefer order over chaos. College prepares students for the real world, which is full of chaos. Logic—or the promise of its power—puts folks at ease.

But I’m a poet, and poets like to mess with shit.

What about the world is knowable? Do words, phrases, sentences, etc. always give an accurate account of Reality? What is Reality? Who are you without language? Is love logical? Will achieving a high score on the ACT get me into a good school, secure me a high-paying job and guarantee my happiness?

Believe me, I’m working hard to tutor my niece. I want her to succeed and I appreciate our time together. She has a point about not understanding the ulterior motives of the ACT test-makers, but she still has to take it.

Logic has its place, no doubt, but what about Wonder? What becomes of adventure when the Secret has been spilled? Adults spend hours upon hours languishing away in cubicles. Given the gravity of our daily business, a moment of play—and time taken to indulge the Irrational—makes a whole lot of sense.