Ad execs must have had a tough time working out how to sell Christmas in this year of virtual life. (At least, I hope they have.) The Christmas fantasies of merrily-laughing families or snugly-jumpered framilies aren’t going to cut it for 2020. I’d like to offer you this poem as a sort of reality check, or an advert for the only thing which really serves us in times as trying as these. Here’s Hayden Carruth’s ‘An Apology for Using the Word ‘Heart’ in Too Many Poems‘. (If you click the arrow above the poem’s title, Garrison Keillor will read it to you. The poem starts at 1:52 but the rest of Keillor’s gentle ramble around matters cultural is interesting, too.)
One of those poems which says what it has to say without any need for editors or commentary, ‘Apology’ does that common but effective formal trick of setting up the argument anti in the first section before pivoting on the ‘And yet’ into the pro section. The second half gathers mass and impact like a snowball thundering down a December mountainside. And who could argue with Carruth’s claim that ‘isn’t/ The word needed at present/ As much as ever, if it is well written and said,/ With the heart and the head?’? I love the accuracy of his claim, which might seem paradoxical: that love may need the head as well as the heart if it is really to be love as opposed to sentimentality. There’s a lot of sentimentality—of, well, cheese, or saccharine—around at this time of the year. I rejoice in this poem’s celebration of “proper” love, real caring: ‘ The whole business, lovers/ To monks, i.e., the capacity to love in the fullest/ Sense’.
May you find it this season.