Saturday, May 11, 2019

'On the Cusp of Things Not Named or Known'

In movies set in the nineteen-thirties or -forties, when the filmmaker has a radio playing, it’s always tuned to a comedy accompanied by raucous studio laughter or to a news report of the attack on Pearl Harbor. But true radio isn’t really like that, and that’s the source of its power and allure. Nor is it commercials, talk shows and robotic music. I think of radio as the metaphysical medium. It’s how we listen to the universe. As a boy, alone in bed at night, I held the box against my ear and tuned the short-wave dial. I listened for voices and music, yes, but also less articulate signals – pulses, static, silence. It creates a sense of anticipatory excitement. Like prayer, radio demands attentiveness, openness and imagination. In “Short Wave: 1982” (Compass and Clock: Poems, 1916), David Sanders writes:

“Who else listens to our coded mystery,
The atonal music of at least one sphere?”

For Sanders, meaning is latent, seldom explicit: “you’re at home with astral voices-- / broadcasts of a different band.” He tunes the dial “like a safecracker.” It’s his theme. In “The Mummy’s Curse,” he teeters “on the cusp of things not named or known.” In “The Observatory”: “What answers did I not have questions for?” Like radio, Sanders is quietly metaphysical. In his finest poem, “Some Color,” with its epigraph from Donald Justice, his mentor, Sanders asks:

“Does the new truth wedged into the world,
The arrangements made you’re most happy with,
Become your life when grafted on the old?”

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