The Friday Poem ‘The Familiar Has Taken Leave’

Why are we always surprised when national events veer from a predicted trajectory? Maybe we’ve been spending too much time with analytics and not enough time with the poets.

Megan Garber wrote in The Atlantic last week about the role of poetry in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “Campaign in poetry; govern in prose,” the old adage goes. This moment, though, has in many ways flipped that idea: The 2016 presidential campaign was decidedly lacking in poetry. Yet in its aftermath, as Americans consider the contours of their new government, they are, often, turning to poems…”

She interviewed Don Share, the editor of Poetry magazine to discover why poetry was having a ‘moment’.

“Well, it’s always been speaking to people—and it’s always been speaking to people about the kinds of things they’re taking about now, because one of the things poetry is really good at is anticipating things that need discussion. Poets are kind of like—it’s a bad metaphor, but—canaries in a coal mine. They have a sense for things that are in the air. Partly because that’s what they do—they think about things that are going on—but partly because they take their own personal experience and see how that fits in with what they see in the world. A lot of people might think that poetry is very abstract, or that it has to do with having your head in the clouds, but poets, actually, walk on the earth. They’re grounded, feet-first, pointing forward. They’re moving around and paying attention at every moment.”

Perhaps next time, we should survey the poets, not the pollsters.

Until then, the events of the past 11 days brought me to a poem selected by Matthew Zapruder for the August 16, 2016 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

The poem, written by broadcaster, documentary filmmaker and poet, Richard O. Moore was part of a “sequence of sonnets about the consequences of losing his sight in old age”.

At its core, the poem is about change…and how we respond.

The Familiar Has Taken Leave

Responding to a world turned outside in
Requires a fresh agility of will
And a surreal mode of thought, both distant
When the world was visible and real.
The only carry-over is the sound:
The hollow clatter of the commonplace,
Ancestral voices, sepulchral complaints
From many sources now invisible.

This is the most dispassionate I can be.
The familiar has taken leave with all I know
And what is left is mostly echo fading,
Never to return. What takes shape then
Is virtual and is a world apart
Assembled half by memory, half by art.

Richard O. Moore (1920-2015) from ‘Particulars of Place’ April, 2015

ParticularsOfPlace-Cover-1.5x2.25-300dpi-CMYK-200x283.jpg

 

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