For today’s Poetry Wednesday I’d like to post a link to something written by a friend. We met Mike Schorsch in our first two years at Notre Dame. Jeff happened to be on the phone with him yesterday and asked me to see if I could find any of his poems online. I found one last night, and we remembered that he actually read this to us in his living room a few years ago, right before he left for Iowa to do an MFA.
He does Greek and Latin translations of ancient poetry but also does creative, original things with those texts. In this poem, for example, he has juxtaposed an ancient, sixth-century Latin hymn composed by Venantius Fortunatus with text taken from an advertisement for an aromatherapy candle.
I have to be honest here and say that if I did not know Mike personally, and just stumbled across this poem online, I would very likely have scanned it and, in approximately one second, decided that it was too inaccessible, or quirky to devote the time it would obviously require to read and digest. I would need to have some kind of advance guarantee in order to read a poem like this. Without that, the text sorter machine of my mind would have quickly sorted it into the “no” bin.
But that is the reality that this poem–I think–addresses: there are so many words to filter through, coming from unknown sources, that our filtering mechanism is conditioned to be aggressive. Sometimes this means narrowing messages down based on their medium: only attending to the words when they come from a known, trusted source. I confess that, not being the most artistically adventurous person, that is more or less my criteria for what I pay attention to. But then the words I supposedly attend to lose their luster because they are still so abundant, repeated, and always–always–expected.
Well, Mike is a trusted source in my book and I am glad that his work was thus permitted to ride the conveyor belt of my ruthless internal filtering plant, into the “to be processed” bin of my mind. I think that what he has done here is profound, because he has taken two radically different kinds of texts–neither one very vibrant in my opinion. Both are candidates for dismissal–one because it is an advertisement for a candle, the other because it is by someone called Venantius Fortunatus, and sounds every bit like it. But by putting them together he has forced something vibrant, like pouring two colorless, odorless chemicals into a beaker and watching them turn red and fizzy.
I am sure that there is much more to this poem than just this rather obvious observation, but for now I am satisfied with this: realizing that often I only half-hear, half-dismiss the words I encounter. If it’s a magazine, I know what kind of language to expect. If it’s a prayer in church, I know what kind of language to expect. Either way, even the words I believe and cherish are about as shiny as tarnished brass. They slough off like dead skin. I need for these old meanings and tarnished messages to be born again in me. I need for words to shine. It may take something drastic. Poetry will do this.