Category: articles

The True American

Robert Pogue Harrison, The True American:

We are the most godless and most religious, the most puritanical and most libertine, the most charitable and most heartless of societies. We espouse the maxim “that government is best which governs least,” yet look to government to address our every problem. Our environmental conscientiousness is outmatched only by our environmental recklessness. We are outlaws obsessed by the rule of law, individualists devoted to communitarian values, a nation of fat people with anorexic standards of beauty. The only things we love more than nature’s wilderness are our cars, malls, and digital technology. The paradoxes of the American psyche go back at least as far as our Declaration of Independence, in which slave owners proclaimed that all men are endowed by their creator with an unalienable right to liberty.

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use (National Poetry Month)

It’s been a year since I embarked on a solo road trip along the West Coast and subsequently started a separate blog to jot down travel notes & inspiration. I also recently composed my first poem since 2009, so maybe one day I’ll finally start sharing my own poetry again. I loved what Ayana Mathis wrote about her trajectory as a writer. Like her, I started writing short stories when I was very young, then later I wanted to be a poet and I blogged my own poems in middle and high school. I’m not sure where my interest in writing my own poetry went, and my love of reading poems was sporadic but has never faded. In my day-to-day relationships, up until recently, I rarely mentioned poetry. Friends found it difficult to relate. As Jia Tolentino wrote about teaching poetry, “Not that I talk to anyone about poetry, ever. My relationship to it is sidelong and almost entirely private. I can’t write it; I read it irregularly. […] I could only locate myself as a student, with no authority, no important opinions, no sense that I was ever correct. And that, in the end, is what made me free.” Meanwhile, Ayana Mathis writes:

I was suspicious of all of the things I wanted, writing or otherwise, simply because I wanted them. And so my desires were reduced to beautiful dreams that floated through my adolescent and young adult life, only acted upon in halfhearted fits and starts. Five or six months of furious writing were followed by a year or two in which I didn’t pen a single line. I never made any real attempt at publishing my work. Better a dream deferred than hopes dashed.

I’ll blog more about Ayana’s essay soon. My friends tell me to be braver with my writing, they tell me I’m too cautious. There’s probably truth in that.

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I collected many more quotes and poems on the other blog I created last year, but I promised to share here during National Poetry Month a few more of the poems I’ve enjoyed.

The masters of information have forgotten about poetry, where words may have a meaning quite different from what the lexicon says, where the metaphoric spark is always one jump ahead of the decoding function, where another, unforeseen reading is always possible.

– J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year

Some little tastes of poetry for National Poetry Month after the jump below. By the way, Amazon has lots of deals on classic poetry compilations. You can also get Emily Dickinson’s complete poems on your Kindle for free!

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Might books have some use, after all?

Define happiness, someone asked me recently. Absorption, I said instantly (it was an e-mail interview), and anything that gives me an inner life and a sense of spaciousness, intimacy and silence. The world is much better for many of us now than it was 10 years ago, and I never could have dreamed so many of us would have so many kinds of diversion, excitement and information at our fingertips.

But information cannot teach the use of information. And diversion doesn’t teach us concentration. Imagine a seven-hour-long heart-to-heart with someone who’s been saving up all her life for what she’s about to whisper in your ear. The medium that has been dying the whole century may be one way we can rebel against the hidden dictatorship of Right Now.

— Pico Iyer, on the tyranny of the moment (and why books may still be useful after all)