Writing, according to Aristotle, has three purposes: to inform, to persuade, and to delight (entertain). I imagine these purposes on a line. To the far left is writing to inform. Just to the right of that is writing to persuade. And at the extreme right is writing to delight and entertain.

While I’ve dedicated much of my working life to the first two purposes, I’m not unacquainted with the far extreme of writing to delight. This blog post celebrates that far extreme where words transform into art. But specifically, this post is in honor of the Nobel Prize-wining poet Derek Walcott, my teacher, who died on Friday (March 17, 2017) at 87….

This morning, his picture was on the front page of the New York Times, an article continued on the whole back page (Section A) (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/17/books/derek-walcott-dead-nobel-prize-literature.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0), where they excerpted some of his poems and published a picture of him with three friends: Mark Strand (Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and Poet Laureate of the United States); Joseph Brodsky (Nobel Prize in Poetry); and Adam Zagajewski (a prize-winning Polish poet). This picture was interesting to me because Mr. Walcott, Mr. Brodsky, and Mr. Strand had been my teachers at Columbia University.

While those of us whose job it is to research, evaluate, and comment on the workings of the world around us in our written reports are required to be analytical and adept critical thinkers and concise, clear writers, we should take time to acknowledge what Gerard Manley Hopkins called “God’s grandeur” and our humble attempts to capture the spirit of living in various forms of art.

Walcott talked about his own poetry. “I come from a place (the island of St. Lucia) that likes grandeur; it likes large gestures; it is not inhibited by flourish; it is a rhetorical society; it is a society of physical performance; it is a society of style,” he told The Paris Review in 1985. “I grew up in a place in which if you learned poetry, you shouted it out. Boys would scream it out and perform it and do it and flourish it. If you wanted to approximate that thunder or that power of speech, it couldn’t be done by a little modest voice in which you muttered something to someone else.”

For Walcott, poetry was a religion, a way of life, a way of being. And he was a most modest and generous man when it came to poetry. He believed that poetry was a force that some were lucky enough to voice. It was not THEIR poetry. It was just POETRY.

I urge you to find some poetry and to read it out loud…alone and with those you love. Look up Walcott’s The Star-Apple Kingdom (https://www.amazon.com/Star-Apple-Kingdom-Derek-Walcott/dp/0374515328).

The “lig” in re-lig-ion means to bind/tie/fasten. So “religion” means to re-connect what has become unconnected. That is the purpose of art, of poetry. It reconnects us with all that is good and bad in life, all that is wonderful and horrible, the entire experience of life as it is in our dreams and in our nightmares and in every waking moment. So take some time to read aloud some poems.

In memory of Mr.Walcott, I offer here five poems of mine to honor the voice of poetry.

50

A little more than halfway home myself,

Though I wouldn't really know it if I saw it,

 

And it's true the body does start breaking down some,

And it is strange how the slower you go the faster time flies;

 

Late, but still in daylight, early February,

An almost full moon through the branches of an old birch,

 

The fenced-in pond beside me is glass. And actually

Just having thought to myself last night as I slid the garbage to the curb

 

That all the geese have finally gone, today

One Canadian goose is standing by itself in the middle of the thin ice

 

Honking. I can't explain why he's there

Or how he came to be alone.

 

Miles away and a couple of years back now

My mother was walking across an old bridge

 

Over a tumbling little river on her way to a famous garden

Of orchids, swarms of butterflies.

 

Children from a village not far from Machu Picchu

Held her hand and coaxed her to where she was headed.

 

And then a plank, so covered in moss that it had become the moss,

Collapsed. And she fell. And though the water was only ten or fifteen feet below,

 

I imagine her falling a long ways and for a long time.

Falling through her life and falling out of mine,

 

Falling past the little hospital in Cuzco

With the medicos who thought they brought her remedies,

 

And pretty soon falling to her death.

I wasn't there, where it was the middle of the summer.

 

I can only imagine the incessant flutes just beyond her sickbed

And the bright, hot colors the old women wore

 

As they led their llamas up the red dirt road in that country

With no air. I was simply here looking at the moon again. 

 

And really what can the moon do for anyone.

I listened to the goose, lost and indignant.

 

*  *  *

 

Maya

Maya, sleeping there so quietly

In your newborn dream, innocent

 

As your great-grandmothers

And cousins whose hands

 

No doubt you were holding,

The way everyone in Eternity

 

Must be holding hands—for us—

In the dark before the big bang.

 

I am merely one of the passing

Voices you were bequeathed

 

Those delicate ears to hear—

Let me tell you, we have come to earth

 

To do very simple things: to love

And fight. And while the first

 

Is more sweet, it is often the harder,

But always more important.

 

As you wake into our world

And yours, make your prayers

 

Ever more fine until they become

The laws you live by—our world

 

As it should be, the ineluctable fighting

Sutured with love, the love you embody,

 

Love that holds our only truth.

 

*  *  *

 

Foxes

Remember the road we drove, through that night,

Waiting for our son to be born, your labor pains

Coming more often and each time lasting

A bit longer—how you were the shell

The little bird was pecking out of,

The surging child at the gates of our holy earth.

 

Hot early-August fields in the humid darkness

Bulged with corn; a dense fog’s trillion droplets

Crowded together filled the space around us;

And we saw there on the white scrim

That our headlights projected like a film

A red fox out of nowhere cross the road in front of us

 

Just as we’d seen ten years before, the night

Your grandmother died—we took this as a sign

And named our child Fox, (my father saying

How lucky we didn’t see a skunk). Now

So many years later, in the kitchen

The words we give each other are a cargo of disappointment

 

And fear. We’re having to face that imminent other beginning.

We compare, like architects, the shape of what we’ve built

Against the blueprints we had imagined. How is it then

Our words must club and stab when nothing at all

Has really changed? The kitchen clock’s

Inexhaustible tick circles back on itself. The birds chant

 

The trees back into blossom. And again spring itself has fractured

Our earth with shoots and sprouts, with bursting buds, and

A whole new lexicon of unmarked shiny green leaves

As though all must be forgiven and things must

Go on as they always do, the compost

Of scraps and grudges nurturing every new bloom.

 

*  *  *

 

After a Leisurely Lunch at the Jumbo Floating Restaurant

Randall and I Engage a Sampan for a Half Hour Cruise

Around the Harbor

The day I became a multi-billionaire I will never forget.

I was a little sad onion standing there alone and full of tears.

 

Without bubbles, circumspect, neither watching TV

Nor being watched—just one more victim of global warming

 

And total warmongering. No diamonds in my pocket, broken down

Into syllables, stranded like a diagrammed sentence,

 

In every way controlled by the bullies in control.

Sure, I dreamed of seeing Hong Kong Harbor—

 

Ancient junks and sampans lolling on the tide

Beside the phallic glass skyscrapers penetrating an exotic purple cloud.

 

What is a life without prospects? A child running with her string of balloons?

A few dozen pigeons lifting into the light?

 

O,” I cried, “Give me a language of silk and gold,

A sweet future of lace and sunshine, prosperity,

 

The ability to fly, a skiff with a soft pink canopy, and no regrets."

 

*  *  *

  

A Morning Prayer

It’s time we accepted

What’s ugly because

 

So much is ugly, truly

Ugly. We must be

 

Born again in the spirit

Of ugly, and graciously

 

Admit it’s hard to tell

Where ugly stops

 

And I begin.