Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Thing That Ate Cleveland

A reminder to Cleveland poetry fans that Sarah Gridley and I will be reading at John Carroll University tomorrow, Wednesday October 10 at 7 PM in Rodman Hall, Meeting Room A; for more information call 216-397-4221. Should be excellent. Apparently we've been billed to the students as "spiritual" writers; it will be interesting to see in what ways we meet and/or confound their expectations. Curator Philip Metres told his students that "Corey's work draws upon Biblical sources, philosophy (Charles Fourier is an inspiration), the pastoral tradition, Gertrude Stein, among others." Fair enough, I suppose, though it's always odd to hear one's own work described, like listening to your outgoing message on the answering machine. Philip quotes a review of Sarah's work that describes it as "intelligent poems that think with the whole body"—now that's a description you can sink your teeth into. He alludes to her fascination with Merleau-Ponty; I wonder if that fascination is as present-tense now as it was when we were students together at Montana and she was devouring The Phenomenology of Perception. Maybe it is, but it's curious how writing inscribes one's interests (onto one's body of work) and turns your reading into your biography. Suppose obituaries preoccupied themselves entirely with the books that had most fascinated the deceased?

Finding a bit of a rhythm now with my teaching, which is to say I'm getting used to being behind on prep and papers. Deep in Walden for my Nineteenth Century American Lit class, in some ways my favorite because I get to encounter and re-encounter some very odd ducks: Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson, and Whitman are yet ahead of us. Reading Thoreau makes me want to return to Lawrence Buell's book The Environmental Imagination, parts of which informed my dissertation. But I didn't spend much time with his writing about Thoreau, and I'm increasingly enamored of Henry David's brand of prophetic eccentricity; he's wonderful company. That plus my weekend's immersion in Into the Wild has me hankering for a little wilderness. I'm missing the great landscapes I've known: the Bitteroot Valley in Montana, the coast of northern California, the woods and gorges of the Finger Lakes in New York. Lake Michigan is beautiful to walk beside and like all vast waters offers scope for meditation, but its shores are entirely too domesticated to provide the sort of transport I've derived from the places I've mentioned. Beginning to wonder whether and how I'll be able to whisk my nascent son-or-daughter to wilder places now and again.

In the spirit of contrariness to my own mood, here's a surprising taste of the pro-globalization Thoreau:
Commerce is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert, adventurous, and unwearied. It is very natural in its methods withal, far more so than many fantastic enterprises and sentimental experiments [Brook Farm?], and hence its singular success. I am refreshed and expanded when the freight train rattles past me, and I smell the stores which go dispensing their odors all the way from Long Wharf to Lake Champlain, reminding me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical climes, and the extent of the globe. I feel more like a citizen of the world at the sight of the palm-leaf which will cover so many flaxen New England heads the next summer, the Manilla [sic] hemp and cocoa-nut husks, the old junk, gunny bags, scrap iron, and rusty nails.
I must admit to the possibility that Thoreau is being ironic here; but if so, he's playing a very deep game.

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