the same but different

Feb 3, 2022 poetry appreciation

I guess what makes a poem “helpful” is going to vary depending on what sort of help you need on any given day. This week’s poem helps me in a lot of ways, not least its opening reminder that ‘Reason is a fine thing, but… there are other ways/ to live’. “Sense” is not always head sense. What else do you find in Annie Lighthart’s ‘The Verge‘? (Garrison will read it for you at around the 19th line, the tall one after the lowest one, on the audiotrack.)

I love the tentativeness with which Lighthart offers the most radical-seeming alternative to reason: ‘revelation’. ‘[B]y instinct or passion, or even,/ maybe, by revelation’: the punctuation, line-break and ‘maybe’ all serve to delay the offering of ‘revelation’ as well as contributing to the conversational tone of the poem. That this is a low-key chat between friends is also suggested by the casual ‘Try it’. Hers is an exquisite sensibility, though, which can suggest both the location and experience, the nature of revelation so precisely—’the verge –/ that place of about-to-open, near where we comprehend/ and laugh and see’—and yet without any pretentiousness. It’s delightful.

Lighthart flips the Eeyore view of the world—why would something wonderful happen?—into a hopeful statement of the possibility: ‘[w]hy shouldn’t something marvelous/ happen to you?’. The rest of the poem serves to remind us that the answer to that question may lie in our willingness to see. That the man/moose encounter is transformative is conveyed in such an understatedly deft and gorgeous way: the moose’s ‘quiet dark eyes’ become, by the end, the man’s ‘quiet eyes [which] were curious and ready to be true’. We are reminded that the readiness is all.

It’s also delicious that revelation may show us ‘the ungainly [my italics] and miraculous’: it’s not necessarily about particular beauties or graceful alignments of stars or big drama but rather about opening to ‘the verge’. The revelation may be humble, look clumsy or unglamorous. Nonetheless it is real. There’s something which feels so right about locating the numinous within the everyday and, often, chance encounter (think of Hughes’ Roe-Deer and how in seeing them the poet feels that ‘the curtain had blown aside for a moment’). And isn’t anything a blessing if it reminds us to ‘[see our] own beauty’—not of form but of attitude? I’m ready to hear that any day of the week.

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