Friday, September 20, 2013

"Every Fiber of Awareness Sings" (a sonnet by Robert Lavett Smith)



This pinecone, found on a path near Saint Joseph's University's Bellarmine Hall, has a place of honor on my bookshelf. Why? Because it's one of those perfectly ordinary things I hardly ever think to look at closely.  Early each semester, I put it in a basket along with other random items: a safety pin, a rock, a candle.  I ask my students to bring in an ordinary item from their own lives, or to choose one from my basket.  Then I have each of them hold the item, look closely at it, listen to it, smell and maybe even taste it.  I have them write down what they discover and ask them to make a wild imaginative leap somewhere along the way.

One of the things I love most about poetry is when it seeks and finds significance in the humblest of places.


































Here's a sonnet that looks at a perfectly ordinary scene, and finds the meaning and the magic therein.  It's by Robert Lavett Smith, an old friend of mine from the University of New Hampshire,where he was a grad student and I was an undergrad.  I've long been a fan of Bob's crystalline imagery and his ability to engage emotion without ever crossing the line into sentimentality.  This poem is a perfect example of both those skills:


Starr's Oriental Rugs

“Elle est retrouvée.
Quoi? — L’Éternité.”
                    — Arthur Rimbaud
Starr’s Oriental Rugs in Englewood,
New Jersey, shimmers in my memory—
A fact that borders on absurdity
Since there’s no earthly reason why it should.
The moment I’d return to, if I could,
And choose to cherish through eternity,
Shines all the more for being so ordinary:
A bus stop bench rough slats of peeling wood,
A warm spring night with all the trees in leaf,
Dark windows, ornate carpets spread like wings.
I was nineteen, ignited by belief
That every fiber of awareness sings;
Sure living would be glorious, and brief;
Sure, in that instant, of so many things.

For more of Bob's sonnets, check out his collection, Smoke in Cold Weather.

1 comment:

  1. Two of the touchstones of my meager attempts at philosophy, both from my reading when I was in graduate school (just down the road, at Bryn Mawr College). William Dean Howells (in his first novel, The Wedding Journey):
    "Ah! poor Real Life, which I live, can I make other share the delight I find in thy foolish and insipid face? The sincere observer of man will not desire to look upon his heroic or occasional phases, but will seek him in his habitual moods of vacancy and tiresomeness."
    And of course, from that treasure house of gnomic thoughts, to be pondered through the course of one's life, Four Quartets of T.S. Eliot:
    "Humankind cannot stand very much reality"

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