Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Name of this Blog

For a long time I waited and hoped that someone would ask me about the name of this blog. No one did. 
A few months ago, an acquaintance and Facebook friend had a status that read “…knows how way leads on to way.” It made me very happy.
Before I left for Italy in August of 2009, I made a loose commitment to take pictures on my trip and post about the experience. I wanted a title that might allude to a journey, but not necessarily a trip in particular. I imagined that I might write about scenery and food and my traveling companions, and I wanted to keep it up when I returned. I did not want the blog to be yet another unfinished project. I have plenty of half-knitted sweaters and pieced but unquilted quilt tops.
To me, Robert Frost is a quintessentially American poet. Arising not from academia but emerging from a string of professions (teacher, shoe-maker, newspaper editor), Frost reminds me of that 20th century American guy who reinvents himself a couple of times before he decides on the domain he plans to master. Frost lived and worked in his adult life in New England, and wrote a lot of poems I find cold and scary and sad and mostly inaccessible—not unlike New England itself. This line—“…how way leads on to way…”— comes from his most famous poem— a poem my mother believed has been misunderstood by several generations of readers.
Because it was the one poem I remembered talking about with my mother, I almost chose to read it at her memorial service.  I knew I could not remember enough of her thoughtful analysis to do her justice, especially not in front of English professors and a bunch of Deans.
What do you read at your mother’s memorial service, in front of all the deans and the provost and the chancellor of Washington University? My older brother and my step father each wrote a speech. I wanted to make a gesture. A poem is a gesture. I started in the room where my mother kept her books. The shelves held not just her books from graduate school, but all of her books from when she and my dad were still married. He did not take much when he moved out. It would have been a grand gesture to read “Death of a Pig” aloud to a captive memorial audience, knowing the story is funny and sad and entirely too long to be appropriate. Something about my mother inspires me to long to do inappropriate things, like writing the word “fuck” anywhere I please, or getting a tattoo, or wearing muddy jeans.
I read “This Solitude of Cataracts,” by Wallace Stevens. 
I found it in a book of my mother’s. I enjoyed reading it as much as I was going to enjoy reading something at my mother’s memorial service, which was not at all. I like the poem. I do not totally understand it. I think one of the most important things about great poetry is not quite grasping all of it, or even most of it.  I quit being an English major in college because of this: because the analysis of poetry was killing it for me. It had become as if I was studying frogs, but I had to kill every frog in the process, and I wanted the frogs to live.

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