Thursday, September 1, 2016

Word Have Meaning. Period.

I sat uncomfortably with yesterday's post, Word Have Meaning, Unless They Don't.

Stephen Dunn is one of my favorite priest-poets. I found his work in my early twenties, and met him at the Dodge Poetry Festival a decade ago. I'd read everything he'd published. I know how people feel when they meet rockstars.

The ground was soaked with rain from the previous night. Large white tents with audiences ranging from 50 to a few hundred were erected in grassy fields, and I trekked through the mud and hay to reach the tent where he was reading.

He'd won the Pulitzer a few years before. He must have been in one of the bigger tents, but I remember his reading as small, off-beaten-path, sparsely attended. He was all the more magical because he was mine.

During his reading, I did this thing I used to do when I was a young poet, staring in such a way that I was sure I could see someone's aura radiating outward. I started doing this at Beatnik poetry readings as a teen in the late 90s. It was probably a trick of vision and light.

A few years later, in the tent listening to Stephen Dunn, his aura was white, the highest order of auras. I drank in every word. I loved him.

Afterward, I approached him to sign my copy of his book. I was going to tell him how his words had saved me, made me feel less alone. How I revered his nuanced thought and planned to use him as a model for the kind of poet I wanted to become.

I chickened out. When I reached the man, I thrust my book to him, stammering, "Uh -- could you please sign my book?"

I still believe in the poets of nuance, even if Dunn wonders, as he gets older, if the priests had something to offer all along. I came to poetry as a religion because it offered me what religion never had -- gray areas, rich questions, a land of no absolutes.

That 19-year-old wannabe Beatnik once wrote, "The only life that interests me is with the outcasts, in the gray areas, along the fringes."

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