Marie Howe, one of my favorite poets, is the current New York State Poet Laureate. The following is reposted after hearing her wonderful interview with Terry Gross on NPR two years ago.
A few days ago, my husband and I were driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog shrouded city faded away behind us as we headed into sunlight filtered through the marine layer at the far end of the bridge. Fresh Air was on the radio; Terry Gross interviewing the poet, Marie Howe, whose poem, What The Living Do, has just been included in the new Penguin Anthology of American Poetry.
As we passed the wildly scrubby hills of The Headlands, I was riveted and moved by the passion and compassion in Marie Howe’s voice as she discussed her life work. She spoke about how every poem holds the unsayable inside of it, that silence that cannot be put into words because it is too complicated, too complex.
I thought about how we writers love words, how we’re always looking for that magic word that encapsulates the precise concept that we can feel but not say. And how we are endlessly disappointed because it’s basically impossible.
But ever once in a while, we find that word we’re looking for. It happened a few days ago, when a new word popped up on my iPad screen—a daily gift from Dictionary dot com: anoesis; a state of mind consisting of pure sensation or emotion without cognitive content. It was like a magic word, one I had been searching for, for a very long time. A word that described the very essence of the experience of the unsayable.
And then, the bonus: the example given was a quote from Will Self’s (what a great name, btw!) On Psychogeography. Psychogeography? What does that mean? It turns out to be a word coined by the French Situationists in the 1950s to describe the resurrected, time-honored Parisian tradition of flaneur. Wandering and observing. Psychogeography; now that’s a word I need, because it’s something I do everyday.
Digging around on the internet, I found a 2007 interview on World Hum, where Will Self compared writing (something else I do everyday) to psychogeography, saying that they both are low start, bare bone activities. All you have to do is go out and do it.
Thinking about the relationship between writing and walking, between struggling to find a way to say the unsayable and the experience of psychogeography, brought to mind an excerpt from A.M. Klein’s epic poem, Portrait of the Poet as Landscape (another wonderfully evocative phrase):
Then he will remember his travels over that body—
the torso verb, the beautiful face of the noun,
and all those shaped and warm auxiliaries!
A first love it was, the recognition of his own.
Dear limbs adverbial, complexion of adjective,
dimple and dip of conjugation!
Wow. What a landscape. It takes my breath away.
But back to Fresh Air.
As we pulled off the freeway into Corte Madera, with Mt. Tamalpias reigning peacefully over the community, Marie Howe read one of her poems, My Dead Friends, that talks about the practice she has of asking her dead friends—those who had already passed through ‘the frightening gate’—for their help in making decisions. “They always answer whatever leads to joy, to more life and less worry.”
We parked the car and I just sat there a few moments with that thought. And then in the silence that followed, I experienced an enormous sense of wordless joy, rightness and well being. A moment of anoesis.
Thank you Marie Howe.
You can click here to listen to Fresh Air and Terry Gross's October 19th, 2011 interview with Marie Howe