Saturday, September 02, 2023

Red Letter Poem #175

 The Red Letters



In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.


                                                                                                          – Steven Ratiner





Red Letter Poem #175





A Glorious Sky



The clouds look proud

because we have to gape so far up.


Really they’re confused and disconcerted:

herded, riven, with not much time


as clouds.  How fine

that they up there


take after us: waiting, demented by brevity,

driven askew, evaporating.


(But what levity!  What a view!)



                        ––Charles O. Hartman 



Do you remember?  Late August days––when, what had seemed like an everlasting summer vacation revealed itself as shockingly finite––and the first day of a new school year suddenly loomed on the horizon?  So you went to the park with your friends, immersed yourself in furious play until you were thoroughly spent and you had to lie down on the grassy hillside, simply gazing at the sky?  And like all children, wasn’t there was something of the poet-philosopher quietly simmering within your joyful (some might say feral) nature, as you stared up into the infinite and wondered about the sort of questions no classroom occasioned and no teacher attempted to answer?  Did you try to envision yourself penetrating deeper and deeper into the universe, thinking there had to be a border somewhere, the limit of everything––but, in that case, what lay beyond that?  And then––when even your imagination was exhausted––were you content to simply stare at the slowly-changing shapes of clouds, happy to simply be: alive, embodied, unschooled, somehow connected to it all?


It seems Charles O. Hartman––his ties to that schoolboy self, stretched but not severed––found his way back to the classroom, becoming the Lucy Marsh Haskell Professor of English, and Poet in Residence Emeritus, at Connecticut College.  Along the way, he authored seven collections of poetry, including New & Selected Poems (Ahsahta), as well as highly-regarded books on jazz and song, computer poetry, and the prosody of free and formal verse.  While children right now are busy purchasing school supplies, today’s Red Letter poem offers us the reminder that, when the classroom ceiling is removed, a more profound education becomes possible.  In “A Glorious Sky”––from a new manuscript Charles has recently completed entitled Downfall of the Straight Line––those celestial bodies at first seem daunting; but we soon discover that something of their nature is contained in the cumulonimbus of our own minds.


What we feel in this piece is a consciousness finding pattern, making music––not to tame chaos or cage the infinite, but to make a place for thought to rest.  He plucks strings that resonate (‘gape’ and ‘up’, ‘clouds’ and ‘proud’, ‘disconcerted’ and ‘herded’) so that the intuited feeling of interconnectedness––which we sometimes experience as joy––can temper the terror of our own ‘brevity’ and inevitable dissolution.  When, in the closing lines, a pair of crisscrossed rhymes brings us to a playful sense of resolution––feeling bemused? agog?––we’re able to draw a long slow breath.  What hangs above us is dissonant and lyrical, awful and awesome, all at once.  But the music of what happens (as another esteemed poet once phrased it) becomes the focus of our attention; it accompanies all of us gray-haired children on our arduous journey, and (thank heaven!) replenishes.




The Red Letters 3.0


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