Sunday, September 27, 2020

A BRAW BRICHT MONOLICHT NICHT!

It was on a "braw bricht monolicht nicht" (a beautiful bright moonlight night) that a new friend and companion in poetry burst into my life. My daughter Elizabeth had met her on one of the online boards she frequents (probably not the Science Mommies board), saw some of her poetry and thought it might be interesting for me to read it. Now when people hear that I am a poet, I often get comments like, "I write poetry, too." When they inevitably show it to me, I usually encounter the "Roses are red, violets are blue" type or the somewhat more advanced greeting card verse that poetry journals are always warning you not to send.  I usually respond with a noncommittal comment along the lines of "That's nice," and they fortunately seldom back me into a corner with a request that I critique it.  However, Elizabeth, who is a biochemist and not a poet but who appreciates the poetry I write, suspected that this woman was writing serious poetry and sent me a few examples of her work. I was blown away. Not only did I recognize poetry at a professional level of intensity, but I suspect that that level may be several levels above mine.  It will take me a while to figure it out, because she is also Scottish and loves to include a lot of "Scottishisms" in her poetry. When Elizabeth told her that I was amazed by her poetry, she requested my email address, and sent me an email that was closer to an epistle, chock full of her poetry, along with a recommendation of an online Scottish dictionary so I can decode the words I don't recognize (although there are also words that I think are English that I will have to look up and I almost never have to do that).  I am telling myself that the educational system in Scotland is dimensions beyond the one in the U.S. but I think she is basically just brilliant as well as extremely well educated. 

In her first email, she ranged over Scottish ballads, Kafka, little known facts about Robert the Bruce, more little known facts about Clan Grant (my maiden name) which settled near Loch Ness, the poetry of St. John of the Cross and his use of Song of Songs, and included a series of poems about the full moons during Covid 19, asked my opinion on an opening line in one of her poems, and left me with the feeling that I had been for a ride with Lord Peter Wimsey in one of his fast cars touring a field of diamonds.

It was intoxicating and intimidating and effervescent. Since my poetry mentor, whom I had known for 40 years died recently, I hadn't had anyone with whom I could share the challenges of creating poetry who was also engaged in that demanding work.  Interestingly, on Friday, my horn teacher had asked me a question about the poem I had included on a birthday card for his wife, and I plunged eagerly into a half-hour discussion on how I create my unique verse structure, and I could feel myself coming alive as I described it. While my new friend's poetry is quite different than mine, there are also similarities, and the realization that I have encountered someone who speaks the same language has left me feeling as if I were breathing the sparse air of a high mountaintop, or as Keats wrote in "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" (although it was actually Balboa who was the first European who saw the Pacific rather than Cortez),

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise 
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

However, Keats was actually talking about his discovery of a translation of Homer that was exhilaratingly different from the polished literary translations of John Dryden and Alexander Pope. A friend, Charles Cowden Clarke, brought him George Chapman's earthy, vigorous paraphrase, and the two men stayed up all night reading it, "Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination."
Lest I seem to be criticizing Keats, I will quote from the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse, 
In a postscript to the novel The Clicking of CuthburtP. G. Wodehouse says "In the second chapter I allude to Stout Cortez staring at the Pacific. Shortly after the appearance of this narrative in serial form in America, I received an anonymous letter containing the words, "You big stiff, it wasn't Cortez, it was Balboa." On the other hand, if Cortez was good enough for Keats, he is good enough for me. Besides, even if it was Balboa, the Pacific was open to being stared at about that time, and I see no reason why Cortez should not have had a look at it as well."

I suppose that since my new friend Alba is across the Atlantic I should make that my discovery--though I could get to Scotland going from California since the world IS round, but I feel as if I have discovered--"with a wild surmise"--an entirely new ocean of poetry that beats upon the shores of my heart.

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