I confess that these days I’ve been thinking about Christian Wiman’s poem “We Lived,” especially the stanza
to be mean
because that’s how I’ve been feeling—angry and afraid. In between phone calls to congressional offices I was writing snarky prose poems—with a jackal, a badger, a wolverine. It was therapeutic, cathartic—but it was all on the negative side of the equation.
Anger, as a kind of energy, has its place. It can do good things. But I’ve also been thinking about something Chad Sweeney said during a class at LiTFUSE—that just the act of working on a poem puts good energy into the world.
Walking along the creek near where I work, I realized that while I was putting good energy into the world while I was also whittling it away.
I had read Jamaica Baldwin’s fierce, powerful poem “Call Me By My Name.” To me, this poem is anger in a good way.
I had read about Kaveh Akbar tweeting poems by poets who come from the seven countries listed in the ban. To me, that is putting positive energy into the world.
I was thinking about another kind of mean, the arithmetic mean, where it’s between the extreme.
For now, I’ve abandoned those prose poems, and I’m trying to balance the bad with the good. This isn’t to say that it’s going to be all sweetness and light. It isn’t. Just an absence of snark.
And last night, I had the pleasure of hearing Ross Gay read poems and essayettes (or delights!) and talk about joy as a practice and poetry as an act of radical joy, or was it a radical act of joy? I’ll take either and both.