Since the beginning of June, my friend Graham and I have embarked on a project that we have yet to name and which is proving to work wonders for our friendship (not that it was imperiled before), our depths of patience (much-needed in this world of hustle-and-bustle, where skimming texts is preferable to reading them), and our critical faculties (Graham has a BA in English, while my degrees are in English, too -- but without classrooms, the tools at our disposable lose their edges). In short, we're reading one longish poem a month together (taking turns in choosing) and writing proper, sit-down, longhand letters to one another about it. As a result, in the last two-and-a-half months, I've handwritten more letters than I had in the previous five years at least -- and I used to be a prolific writer of letters. As well, I've had more success this summer nosing into the strata of poems than I have since my first semester of graduate school in 2006. The project (which was Graham's idea, it should be noted) has come to feel -- in this very short amount of time, in the midst of the turbulent relationship I'm having with my church, and in the midst of my current appalled disenchantment with politics -- necessary for my sanity, for my sensitivities to all things beautiful and worthwhile. My wife has taken to have me say three nice things a day about people, so quick have I been to resort to snark and viciousness in considering the news, the drivers on the road, the customers at the store at which I work, the narrow-mindedness of certain fellow parishioners, etc. It has been a challenge, but I imagine time will bear out her wisdom in having me push myself to kindness. And this poem project feels like one half of this focus on kindness -- or if not kindness, generosities. God makes us whole, but that wholeness is often achieved through art, through relationships. I like to think of God inhabiting the ink of a page of a book, the insistence of a loved one, the thoughtful reproach of someone I have wronged. These things -- novels and poems, marriages, even confrontations -- become the cosmos. Or at least we're reminded of the cosmos existing within them. Art can be a harbor for us when the rest of the world seems to have gone mad (even art about
a world gone mad -- Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon
is impressing me in spades just now), when we ourselves seem to have gone mad.
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