There are times, like now, when we might wish to do a Rip Van Winkle and wake up when it’s all over or crawl into a sensory-deprivation tank or join a religious cult and chant to the wall in a loin cloth. My favorite letters of transport are lines of poetry.
I’m a lucky guy. Every morning, without fail, for at least four years Peggy has written a poem. She sits three feet away breathing some rarefied air transforming what is finite into the sublime. I get to inhale what she exhales gasping for breath, scratching on the window of her bus as it leaves the station.
Mine are the first eyes to be mesmerized by her poetry. Sometimes I struggle to find a way in. It may require realigning my consciousness to hers with risky leaps off linguistic cliffs or constructions only granted by poetic license.
The result is transportation out of the fray, this daily morass. It’s like having a private Uber to the land of elsewhere where newspaper-English is no longer our first language.
It has been said that every poem fails because words are incapable. They can reach but not grasp the ineffable. Peggy says it is not the words but in among them, what is glimpsed or barely suggested. As Keats wrote in his ode, Heard melodies are sweet but those unheard / Are sweeter.
Maybe elsewhere is not necessarily the desired destination. The muse, be it music, visual or composed on the page can deposit us straddling the tent with one foot inside and the other one outside. Lifted yet grounded. A flight with return ticket.
The choice of Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize can be seen in these terms. Not so much a blow to the literati as one of inclusion saying, make room. A populist note not in the Trumped-up sense but that other authentic one of this land made for you and me. Song as literature is a reach back to the Homeric tradition. Certainly his lyrics pass the sniff test. They are often as bewildering as a John Ashbury poem as if written under a Coleridge hallucination. The honor is also a nod to Woody Guthrie’s voice as well as Odetta’s and Joan Baez and others over the past six decades.
As a mode of transcendence religion has its place. Not for me but I can imagine getting swallowed in the orthodoxy. Ben Lerner writes about stepping into an elevator at a Jewish hospital in NYC. He got spooked on his way to the 7th floor when the door opened at every floor though no one got on or off. He got out on the 4th and took the stairs only later realizing it was a Sabbat elevator for those who are forbidden to touch the button. To be fully observant one could get lost in the literal with every floor presenting more prohibitions and mandates.
More meaningful ways of renouncing this world of increasing folly and indecency come to mind. As a devout atheist I thank God for all the windows, doors and off-ramps leading out. To each his flying bus.