Poetry as Memory of God

Blogging should sound like talking to myself. But it’s not journaling becasue, while talking to myself, I’m also talking to you. The most “virtuous” (because I’m a virtue ethicist of my own behavior) thing I can do is help you, others, pay attention…to my own words, which I hope hold value for their thoughtfulness and to the Word of God. It’s what the poet, G.M. Hopkins invites himself and others to do: pay attention to the Kingfisher and the dragonfly, consider what they say. “Pay attnetion to what you pay attention to,” says, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Well, If you’ve found yourslef here, in my clouster of the internet, you might have noticed…I pay attention to poetry. Why is that? I grew up with my mom reading it aloud. I studied it in university. etc (on my past experience). Most of all—and this is thanks to re-reading Hopkins just now— I hear Christ “lovely in [voice] not his.” I swim upstream of poets to the scripture they read. I remember God. Usually in by body. Today, it was with tears while reading Hopkins aloud. I get that I’m weird for crying at poetry, I accept it and you’re free to as well.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Language Caught Alive

"Poetry is language caught alive"

Then just call me Joe Exotic and my verse cagey tigers.

Netflix jokes aside, I really dig this poetry resource. Poetry as 'performance', I think, serves to bring it out of the learned towers of academia and, in that way, breath life and longevity into it.

Some time ago, I was lucky enough to catch Dana Gioia at a poetry reading hosted by the Dallas Institute. That evening, I witnessed firsthand a master 'performative' poet recite his work to his guest. He looked down only once to his written material. Otherwise he spoke his lines as the living drama that they are. I can't help but think that poetry can act like a thin spot between something like Aristotelian particulars of people in a room (with one man's voice) and Platonic forms of heavenly, language flowers dropping their petals to the here-and-now.

The Media Shaped Memory

In his recent newsletter, Michael Sacasas re-articulated Marshall McCluhan's argument that new technology/media reconfigure society. Reconfiguration takes place, not by an ex nihilo big bang, but by rearranging the pre-existent material. New media rearranges "the public" culture (Kierkegaard). Sacasas gives the example inviting us to:

consider the effect of digital media on memory. If collective memory is a crucial element of a cohesive, well-functioning society, if, as Ivan Illich has observed, what we call different cultures are merely the manifestations of different means of remembering—then what are the consequences of the radical re-ordering of how we remember occasioned by digital media?

Cultures, as shared-memory communities (Ivan Illich), might be radically disrupted by this media re-arrangement of shared memory. Cultures are shaped by memory and memory is the story of the past. In other words, Media has the power to reshape the stories we tell about our past.

Some examples of media and what they've reshaped:

  • Cable news, entrenched two-party system
  • Social media, fundamentalist religious and ideological terrorism.
  • The digital scroll-feed, what an individual sees as most important (no temporal bandwidth).

A follow up:

Another instance of media shaping memory came to mind, when I watched the documentary "13th." The film begins with an extended discussion of the film "Birth of A Nation" and it's shaping of the race imagination in the US. Towards the end of the documentary, after a lengthy and sad discussion of disproportional incarceration, the interviews return to a discussion of how media shapes the telling and remembering of black history.

Remember, "The Danger of A Single Story?"

A Sad State of Affairs

Concerning social memory in particular, we may note that images of the past commonly legitimate a present social order. It is an implicit rule that participants in any social order must presuppose a shared memory. To the extent that their memories of a society’s past diverge, to that extent its members can share neither experiences nor assumptions.

— Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember

Today, M. Sacasas reminded me that the one thing we, the people, might collectively do, as a united whole, is lament —be sad, together. It’s not easy work.