The language of literature has an existential condition. Poetic consciousness is a term that, generally, speaks to the ability that language has when employed with artistic intention, to alter perception, to heighten it.
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer re-situates history. 3 million Vietnamese died, and 58,000 American soldiers. A generation later, Nguyen has given this history an authentic voice—a voice that has been brushed aside, hidden from discourse, from textbooks, from individuals whose identities contain it.
I was driving the first time I heard Tomaz Salamun’s poem “Ships” on Poetry off the Shelf, the Poetry Foundation’s podcast. I didn’t have the chance to glance at the poem’s first line, “I’m religious,” and decide whether or not to read it.
Contemporary American poetry was born in the context of the Civil War, the war that claimed more Americans than ever before or since. Whitman and Dickinson, two of America’s seminal poets, were alive and writing poetry during the Civil War.
Though Christensen’s work has been well-loved in Europe since the publications of her first two collections of poetry, in Danish, her poetry did not reach American audiences until alphabet, translated by Susanna Nied and published by New Directions in 2001.
Across languages, cultures, and time, blue is humanity’s most novel color. As far back as we can track human words for colors and their appearance in art and artifact, black and white were first, then red, yellow, and green.
In watching birds, I understand Adrienne Rich’s idea of triangulation through poetry, science, and politics. Someone thousands of miles across the globe must also value, give voice to, and protect the homes of my most familiar backyard birds.
Because there is language. Humanoids happened, then Homo sapiens happened, and somewhere down the line, we started to talk. Why? Because pictures weren’t enough. Because pictures, dazzling as they were (and still are), are a little less portable, less mutable to the nuances of our shifting perceptions.
Topophilia, coined by W.H. Auden in 1947, means the love of place; a straightforward word to describe thoughts and feelings I have with regularity.
About two years ago, I arranged for a one-way ride to York, Maine, to buy a 2004 Toyota Matrix that I found on Craigslist. While the owner counted the cash, he gave me a brief history of my new car.