Saturday, May 20, 2017

`To Preserve Something that Seems Important'

One of the joys of forgetfulness is unexpectedly remembering something previously erased from memory. In a forgotten notebook from 1994 I found the notes I made while reading Timothy Steele’s Missing Measures: Modern Poetry and the Revolt against Meter (University of Arkansas Press, 1990). I remembered reading the book but few specifics about its contents, just a general sense of agreement with Steele’s thesis and admiration for so much learning gently and entertainingly deployed. Then I found this transcribed passage from Page 294, the last page in the volume:

“What is most essential to human life and to its continuance remains a love of nature, an enthusiasm for justice, a readiness of good humor, a spontaneous susceptibility to beauty and joy, an interest in our past, a hope for our future and above all, a desire that others should have the opportunity and encouragement to share in those qualities. An art of measured speech nourishes these qualities in a way no other pursuit can.”

On one level, Steele is talking about himself. In him I sense a natural-born celebrator – not na├»ve but never distracted by the world’s imperfections. He’s no whiner and he seldom sours. The passage reminds me, in its gratitude and good sense, of this rhapsody in Charles Lamb’s essay “New Year’s Eve”:

“I am in love with this green earth; the face of town and country; the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets. I would set up my tabernacle here. I am content to stand still at the age to which I am arrived; I, and my friends: to be no younger, no richer, no handsomer.”

I might quibble with what’s missing from Steele’s list, obvious things – family, friends, books – but maybe they are subsumed under what’s already there. Especially I appreciate “a spontaneous susceptibility to beauty and joy.” I could make a catalogue of the people I know who are immune to that gift. What a marvel: a happy writer. When an interviewer asked Steele, “What do you enjoy most about being a poet?” he replied:

“I suppose writing. That might seem a redundant or obvious answer, but I enjoy writing. I enjoy the process of trying to give something that has arrested me, or something that I love, stability and, I hope, lasting shape. Much of what I write about is written out of a desire to preserve something that seems important, an idea or an image or an experience.”

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