Monday, April 24, 2017

Sing a song of witness #NPM17 #phenology

Yesterday, driving west on Highway 95 from Taylors Falls toward North Branch, we saw a small roadside field of dandelions in bloom. They arrived about the same time last year, end of the third week, beginning of the last week of April. Later in the day, while doing Spring cleaning along our roadside ditches, I noticed two small dandelions bravely bringing bursts of yellow to a countryside turning more shades of pale greens and chartreuse than I can find names for.

witnessing a sign of Spring's rebirth
witnessing a sign of Spring's rebirth
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning I felt overwhelmed in a very different way as I followed the 24th suggestion on how to celebrated National Poetry Month, to Watch or read Carolyn Forche’s talk “Not Persuasion, But Transport: The Poetry of Witness.” Her mention of at least two songs, Amazing Grace and the Star Spangled Banner, in the context of poetry of witness, made me think of a paragraph I read recently in Gary Snyder's The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964-1979. There he's quoted as saying:
"For a book of formal poetry, Turtle Island sold quite a bit. Actually, Americans love poetry, pay huge sums of money for it, and listen to it constantly. Of course, I'm talking about song, because poetry is really song. Rock 'n' roll, ballad, and all other forms of song are really part of the sphere that, since ancient times, has been what poetry is. If you accept poetry as song, then there are plenty of songs already which are doing most of the work that poetry is supposed to do for people."
That, in turn, reminded me of songs such as Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan's I Pity the Poor Immigrant, and Woody Guthrie's Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (also known as "Deportee"). Poetry, especially poetry of witness, combined with music, can, perhaps, do more to soften a hard, human heart than even kittens or puppies. There is no doubt in my mind that we are living in days when we are in ever-growing need of hearts less hardened by exposure to

The Poem


Daniel Hoffman, 1923 - 2013


Arriving at last

It has stumbled across the harsh
Stones, the black marshes.

True to itself, by what craft
And strength it has, it has come
As a sole survivor returns

From the steep pass.
Carved on memory’s staff
The legend is nearly decipherable.
It has lived up to its vows

If it endures
The journey through the dark places
To bear witness,
Casting its message
In a sort of singing.


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