Brief review of last night’s Warren Wilson College MFA faculty reading.
Marianne Boruch read first and from her new book that she didn’t know had been published and available at the book store. Always a delight to hear her read. Poems read include: “Still Life,” “New Paper,” “A Musical Idea,” and others.
Charles D’Ambrosio read a lengthy, intriguing piece that I assume is the opening to a novel. When he finished, I wanted to shout, “What happens next?”
Van Jordan read about a half dozen poems both old and new (from his recent book). His personae poems and eulogies were delightful and haunting.
Michael Martone read one of his “contributor notes” from his book Michael Martone: fiction. You would have had to been there to understand the unique humor of his story. As one amazon.com reviewer put it, “Mind-bending multiple views of Martone’s real and/or imagined lives, written in 2-3 page faux contributor’s notes.” His piece was hilarious and a great way to end a rich reading.
The lecture centered on “Some Thoughts on Sympathy.” Maurice began by defining sympathy. First, it is not the “I feel your pain” emotion that is manipulative, fake and inaccessible — a show of feeling rather than creation of feeling (i.e. the desire that you feel me feeling your pain). Sympathy defined as honest feeling, common understanding — as in “two beasts bound together” like oxen — of suffering.
Maurice cited the Romantic period as the historical place where sympathy in literature is born — where the outward reaching heart surveys the humanity of the world and returns to the mind where it is changed, sympathetic, and reaches outward again. “Isn’t that what we seek in poetry, to be changed?” Maurice asked. From there he presented the two-step machinery of Romanticism — heart and mind cycle — using the physics examples of sympathetic motion in plucked strings and pendulum motion.
This is the part of the lecture where I was deeply engaged. He went deep into physics and linguistics to make the point that sympathy occurs naturally — it is part of our nature. It is the transfer of energy from one property to another, one person to another, from the page to the spirit. This is the kind of lecture that challenges me, resonates with me, makes me want to go deep. I’m starved for it.
Maurice used Robert Burns’s poem “To a Mouse” and Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” as examples of sympathy in poetry. After an in depth analysis of the linguistic patterns of “To a Mouse,” he concluded his lecture by stating that the poets he referenced found the self in these poems. “We’re always yoked to something…” he said. “The mysterious force of the poem stays with us even after we have closed the book.”
The applause was loud and seemed not to affect him as he paper clipped his lecture notes. As the applause subsided he quietly stated, “I guess it’s lunch now.”
I arrived at Warren Wilson College’s Fellowship Hall a few minutes early and waited for the earlier session to conclude. First one out the door was none other than Steve Orlen. I wonder if he read my prediction? More interesting, how did he make it from the front row of a packed hall to be the first one out into the bright, cold morning? He looked at me fidgeting with my gloves. As he fished a cigarette out of its package he told me I should put the gloves away and get in there so I won’t miss the lecture. I smiled, said thanks and headed into the bustling hall.
I’ll provide highlights from Maurice Manning’s poetry lecture later. Gotta get my mind back into work mode. Just discovered that after two rounds of proofreading the word “foreword” was misspelled on a manuscript that is en route to the printer. ARGH. So much for quality control. Then again, I’ve been looking at this manuscript for months and it wouldn’t surprise me if the author’s name is misprinted.
Did any of ya’ll out there make it to Maurice’s lecture?