National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, so what better time of year for a blog post about poetry?

When I was an undergraduate, one of my English professors challenged all the students in my class to think of just five living poets (published, please- not your friend who has a Tumblr). I was surprised but not shocked to see that no one could. Rather, no one even tried. Here was a room full of voracious readers, English majors- self-professed literature lovers! And even they didn’t read contemporary poetry. Despite much ado regarding the “death of poetry,” there is a whole lively world of small literary journals out there, sifting through today’s writing and churning out new issues full of thoroughly vetted beauties.

Once people learn I write poetry, one of the first questions they ask is, “So what do you read?” I always list some poets and then we go our separate ways, them in all likelihood completely forgetting all six or so names I mentioned. So here you go, world: these are a few of today’s living poets I’ve been reading and admiring, along with my recommendations for specific poems, which you should start reading now. And seriously, none of these poems are long. If you read every single one right now, it would probably take you less than 30 minutes. So read! Be inspired! And share! Or, as Mary Oliver (more about her later) says, “Pay attention./ Be astonished./ Tell about it.”

Kim Addonizio: I can’t remember when I first encountered Addonizio’s poetry, but I remember being captivated by her voice- thoroughly contemporary but practiced, mindful, and intentional. She was born in Washington D.C. in 1954, but has lived most of her life in the San Francisco Bay area. She’s published poetry and fiction, as well as several nonfiction works. Two poems you should check out are “What Do Women Want?” which was published in 2000 and is as awesome as you’d expect, and “Lucifer at the Starlight,” which is a sonnet.

Billy Collins: This guy’s Wikipedia page even has a picture of him on it, so you should probably know who he is. A former U.S. Poet Laureate, Collins was born in 1941 in New York. Having received many awards and worked on the editorial boards of various journals, in 1999 the New York Times said, “With his books selling briskly and his readings packing them in, Mr. Collins is the most popular poet in America.” Three of his most well-known poems are “Introduction to Poetry,” which was originally published in 1988, “Marginalia,” published in the February 1996 edition of the magazine Poetry, and “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July,” which has since been used in the reading comprehension portion of AP English exams.

Dorianne Laux: I know of Dorianne Laux because she directs the MFA Program at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, which is pretty much where I grew up. She was born in 1952 in Maine, and didn’t complete her undergraduate degree until she was 36 years old, after which she went on to get a master’s as well. She lives in Raleigh today. Two of her poems you should check out: “Men,” from her 2011 collection The Book of Men, and “Life Is Beautiful,” which ends up being quite different from what you’d expect, just knowing the title.

Mary Oliver: As promised. Mary Oliver was born in 1953 in Ohio. She has won both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for her work, and the New York Times Book Review has referred to her as, “Far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” (It helps, I think, to have a book of poems about dogs.) She never completed a college degree, but spent much of her young adult life studying the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Mary Oliver is kind of a big deal – and yet, her poetry remains approachable, simple, and starkly beautiful. Start by reading “The Summer Day,” “Rice” (pictured below), and “The Journey.”


From Mary Oliver’s New & Selected Poems, Vol. 1

Natasha Trethewey: Born in Gulfport, Mississippi in 1966, Trethewey’s parents were illegally married at the time, as her father is white and her mother black. When Trethewey was 19, her mother was murdered by an ex-husband, whom she had recently divorced. Trethewey was appointed the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2012, and in 2007 she won the Pulitzer Prize. Read her poems “Incident,” which is a Pantoum about seeing the KKK burn a cross in her front yard as a child, and “Theories of Time and Space.”

Ocean Vuong: Born in 1988 in Saigon, or what is now known as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Vuong immigrated to the U.S. in 1990. Today he lives in New York. This year Vuong won a prestigious Whiting Award. I was told by attendees of this year’s AWP Conference that there was not a dry eye in the room after his reading. Check out “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” (yes, his name is in the title) published last year in The New Yorker, and “A Little Closer to the Edge,” which is from THIS MONTH’S edition of Poetry Magazine. Brand new stuff, people.


Are there any poets or poems you would add to this list? Let me know what I should read next in the comments!

Love to all.

Announcement: Grad School!

Reading and writing are two of my earliest loves. My mom is fond of recalling how, on my first day in kindergarten, I read aloud Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat for the entire class. When I was perhaps 8 or 9, my dad gave me an old IBM Thinkpad that ran Windows 95. It sat like a immobile black cinder-block on my desk in my bedroom. I would either play Solitaire or Minesweeper, or compose an endless string of short stories in Microsoft Word- historical fiction, mysteries, etc. In the third grade, I hand-wrote a 40-page (wide rule, obviously) novella that supposedly took place in Europe during World War II, inspired by my collection of dolls. I remember swelling with pride at its length while I stapled the pages together; it felt like a true feat.

I don’t remember the first time I tried to write a poem. I know I played with composing lyrics for songs first. I would sing made-up melodies while pumping my legs on a backyard swing, then share the ones I liked most with my neighborhood friends. I was constantly imagining vibrant backstories for things I encountered- people, trees, animals, cars. One of my favorite recurring daydreams was, while my family drove anywhere out of town, to imagine what my life would be like if I’d had some connection to any of the little places we passed by. What would I be like if I lived behind that sandy shrimp shack? What if I’d gotten lost as a little baby and been raised by the foxes in that abandoned field? What if I’d grown up in that old farmhouse on this Christmas tree farm in the Appalachians?

In high school I was lucky enough to find a year-long elective course focused solely on creative writing. The first time I took it, I was a sophomore. The second, I was a senior, and my counselor informed me, concerned, that I couldn’t receive any credit for this course the second time. Fine by me! We were assigned powerful readings by the likes of Mary Karr and Annie Dillard. Anyone who’s taken public high school English knows how seemingly anything written after 1985 is excluded from the canon, making this all the more incredible. Literature was alive, and it was still beautiful.

During my undergraduate years, I knew I wanted to study English and creative writing, and pursued them fervently. I took a creative writing class every available semester, eventually culminating in a year-long poetry seminar with some pretty amazing folks for whom I’m still so grateful (you know who you are!). After graduation, my writing grew as aimless as a broke teenager set loose in a shopping mall. I published a couple poems in local journals, and tried writing without anyone to tell me what worked, and what sucked. I knew I needed to enroll in a MFA program to further hone my skills as a reader and writer.

All this to say that, come fall, I plan to enroll in the Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing program, focusing on poetry specifically, at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. This is a 3-year program offering excellent faculty, intensive writing workshops, courses, and many opportunities for work and studies in teaching and publishing. I am excited to be taking this substantial step forward in pursuit of my passions.


Though the details are obviously still in flux, and will be for some time, know that Fort Collins is just over a 1-hour drive from Laramie, which is in the realm of totally manageable for Matt and me (and Boone!) now that I own a car with all-wheel-drive. While it won’t be the easiest transition in the world, 3 years doesn’t seem like forever to me anymore and, moreover, the prospect of spending those 3 years working on something so dear to me is exciting.

Thank you to for your part in helping me get to where I am, whether it’s been years of work (thanks, Mom & Dad!) or a couple minutes reading this blog post. I appreciate you.

Love to all.

Poem: A Beat Behind

A Beat Behind


Kant says we are removed from these moments
of our lives and we only know their effect
just as our vision of stars’ light, living on after
their technicolored deaths, is distant from the star
itself, heaving gas and heat, a flame – no, a frame
of light just visible and always a beat behind.
Millennia ago they sang their swan songs.

I’m learning to let myself be in time, in this
very second. Between chimes of the ting-sha
Tolle says that past and future are both illusions;
all we have is now. Kant has said we don’t
even have that so I choose to believe in beauty
over truth, to see echoes of stars and be struck
dumb by their pinpricks through this dark
matter fabric lightyears away, years ago.


My Summer Reads

I love that it’s summer. Seriously. Laramie is gorgeous right now – colorful, sunny, lush, and comfortable. The highs in the summer here reach the highs 70’s, low 80’s (Fahrenheit, duh), which is room temperature in the South. If that doesn’t make you want to come visit us, I don’t know what will!

I have a lot I want to read this summer, but I’m optimistic that all the time spent in airports and camp chairs will provide me with plenty of time to read. So, since there’s enough time left for a summer reading list, let’s do it. Here are the books I’ve read, the ones I’m muddling through, and the ones still out there, waiting.

Books I’ve Read:


  • Summer Sisters by Judy Blume is a bestselling novel for a reason (maybe the #1 of which is that it’s by Judy Blume). It’s hard to put this thing down. The narration follows the development of the protagonist’s best friendship with an enigmatic girl over the course of many years, from middle school to adulthood. Chapters alternate narrators, though the longest and most in-depth passages are in the protagonist’s voice. The friendship culminates in a dramatic and tragic end. A fun but intense read that’s perfect for summer!
  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a memoir by Rebecca Solnit, a prolific California-based activist and writer. I have my sister Libby to credit for giving this book to me for Christmas. Part memoir, part essay, Solnit explores her obsession with the natural world alongside history both personal and official. One of my favorite passages: “Gravity is about motion, weight, resistance, force, the most primal experience after all the touches on our skin, of being corporeal. And so it may be that gravity is a sweet taste of mortality and our strength to resist it, a luxuriating in the pull of the earth and the pull of muscles against it, in the momentum the two create, and in how close you can cut it, just as sex for women has the twin possibilities of procreation and annihilation.” Another bit of Solnit wisdom: “…teenagers imagine dying young because death is more imaginable than the person that all the decisions and burdens of adulthood may make of you.” Lots of good stuff in here, written in beautiful prose. I especially recommend this book to those who fancy themselves writers.
  • Modern Romance is a nonfiction title by Aziz Ansari, a comedian, which delves into the world of dating after the introduction of online dating and hookup apps like Tinder. With the help of sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari looks specifically at dating cultures in America, Brazil, Japan, and Iran, and features many conversations he’s had with both couples and single adults about the process of  finding a mate. I listened to this audiobook via and, as it was narrated by Ansari himself, I recommend listening to it over buying a physical copy. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of research presented in this book, though I still enjoyed Ansari’s quips, jokes, and funny anecdotes as expected. Let me tell you- this book made me SO GRATEFUL that I am not single right now, yeesh.
  • IntotheWildI finally read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Well, to be precise, I listened to it. My favorite parts were actually not about the protagonist, Chris McCandless, but about the other ill-fated adventurers to whom Krakauer compared him. I’m on this Western lit kick, and this got me started.
  • I received a copy of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling from Birchbox for making a purchase over, I believe, $35. In case you don’t recognize the name, Kaling is a comedy writer and Dartmouth graduate who worked on the American version of the NBC show “The Office,” both as a writer and actress (in the role of obsessive, crazy, and beautiful Kelly Kapoor). She now writes and stars in her own show on network TV, “The Mindy Project.” She has recently come out with a new book, Why Not Me. This book is often laugh-out-loud funny and, as a young woman, it’s very encouraging to hear about Mindy’s early struggles as a hungry, poor New Yorker, and her rise to success.

I’m Working on It:

  • That Distant Land: The Collected Stories by Wendell Berry: I’m listening to this on audiobook via and it is perfect and beautiful and moving and sometimes funny too. The stories follow average people in a small southern farming town over the course of several generations. Many of the same characters pop up in different stories, though each has a separate narrator. Beautifully woven together. I love listening to it on long drives and while walking Abe or doing chores. I might just have to buy a paper copy when I’m done listening, for future reference, of course.
  • angleofreposeAngle of Repose is a novel by Wallace Stegner, one of the great American writers, by whom I’m still ashamed to say I have not read anything. This is a continuation of my desire to read more Western American literature, since my education in North Carolina was so heavily steeped in Southern literature (rightly so, I think). This novel won the Pulitzer Prize, which should be enough description alone but, if you need more, know that this is another generation-spanning story featuring one family, as seen through the eyes of its aging historian narrator.
  • I am very slowly making my way through Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems, not because I don’t thoroughly enjoy them, but because reading them all at once is like trying to make a meal out of caramels- sensationally overwhelming. And kind of stupid. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I should try to read some poems written by people who are actually still alive,” then look no further than Jack Gilbert (and Mary Oliver, below). Unflinchingly honest and beautiful language are characteristic of these marvelous poems, which will remind you why you knew somewhere, deep down, that you loved poetry.
  • Mary Oliver’s New & Selected Poems, Vol. 1 has been sitting by my bed for about a year because I’m slowly making my way through it and back through it again like a trail through a wood. Oliver’s poetry is just spectacular. Each word is in its proper and most beheartidiotautiful place. She writes of everything this world is made of – feathers, sky, water, fire, skin, mist, lily petals – and writes it into life.
  • My Heart Is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart: I know, I know- my Goodreads account says that I’ve already read this one. The truth is, I started it long ago, lost it, and for several months had no idea where it was, and I was tired of seeing it on my list of “Currently Reading,” reminding me of what a loser I was. My Heart has since been resurrected in my house (I think it was living on top of the piano), so I return to this abdominal-muscles-achingly hilarious collection of essays. Rothbart has been featured on NPR’s marvelous storytelling show “This American Life,” and with good reason. Give this book to the macho guy who thinks he’s read enough books to quote Hemingway every time he orders a drink. It won’t make him any less of an insufferable nuisance, but it will force him to acknowledge your (and Rothbart’s) awesomeness.

And, Still on the List:

  • FindtheGoodFind the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende
  • Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
  • A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor
  • Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder
  • Healing Yoga by Loren Fishman
  • The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

As you can see, I’m trying to make up for lost time with Wendell Berry. Last, but not least…

Can’t Forget the Cookbooks:

  • Plenty by Yotam Olenghetti is one of the most gorgeous cookbooks I’ve ever seen. This is enough of a reason to buy it, yes? Olenghetti is a world-renowned chef and restauranteur in London, but he is originally from Israel, and his recipes are often thus inspired. All the recipes in this book are vegetarian, but not in that boring let’s-use-tofu-to-make-this-dish-suitable-as-supper kind of way. Olenghetti himself isn’t even a vegetarian, but he values using seasonal produce and making it taste GOOD. If you abstain from meat, this book is a necessity.
  • SheetPanSuppersI was more excited about Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert before I got it in the mail. Silly me, I thought the “Suppers” in the title was indicative of the types of recipes this book would contain. Alas, only about a fifth of the recipes are full meals. The rest are appetizers, breakfast/brunch, dessert, etc. That’s not to say they’re not good, though. I’ve made several of the dishes in this book, including the cover (using salmon instead), and they’ve impressed me with how hands-off and simple they are. Plus, pulling a colorful, well-roasted dish out of the oven is always an awe-inspiring experience.
  • Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy & Wholesome by Virginia Willis was an impulse purchase. I think I read about it first on Food52. Willis is a genius- these recipes are healthy takes on everything you know from your Southern childhood (or from watching the Walton’s – no, that’s just me?). So far I’ve made biscuits, peach cobbler, collard greens, and fisherman’s stew, and they’ve all been pretty much perfect. If you’re sensitive to the vinegar or the ham normally hiding in restaurant collards, the recipe in this book will make you happy. If you’re a human being, the recipe for peach cobbler in this book will make you happy.

I’d love to hear what you all are reading this summer, or what’s still on the list. Any recommendations? Obsessions?

Love to all.

Re: Why Writing about Bodies Is Vital

This post is in direct response to Leslie Jamison’s essay from The Atlantic, “‘We Sweat, Crave and Itch All Day’: Why Writing about Bodies Is Vital.” If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest you do. You can find it here.

Many credible artists suffered from debilitating illness or chronic pain or injury: Frida Kahlo, Virginia Woolf, Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Maria Rilke, John Milton, Vassar Miller, John Keats, Ludwig van Beethoven, Pierre-Auguste Renoir  – just to name a few. This is due in part to the nature of growing medical knowledge and accessibility of treatment (millions of people in centuries past suffered from untreated, poorly treated, or misdiagnosed illnesses), but there’s certainly a stereotype of the tortured artist. This torture can be psychological (depression or addiction), emotional (heartbreak), or physical. For Beethoven and Renoir, their afflictions were particularly cruel. Beethoven, a composer and musician, had already begun to lose his hearing by age 31, and went almost completely deaf by age 44. Renoir, a painter, suffered from extreme rheumatoid arthritis and, late in his life, required someone’s placing the brush in between his paralyzed fingers in order for him to continue painting.

What is interesting to me is that so few of these artists really lent credence to their afflictions. Those who did so publicly are known for it. Frida Kahlo addressed her broken and healing body strikingly in many of her self-portraits; and Vassar Miller, who suffered lifelong from cerebral palsy, wrote about the difficulty in reconciling her sexuality with her severely disabled body.

For centuries, writing about the physical experience of being in one’s body was considered beneath art. Art was to appeal to the mind and soul, which were valued above the sinful and unclean physical body. Physical pleasures like eating, resting, and sex were each associated with their own special (“cardinal”) sins – gluttony, sloth, and lust. As Virginia Woolf puts it in her essay “On Being Ill,” “…literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and… is null, and negligible and non-existent.”

Leslie Jamison mentions another downside to writing about your body – that it can be considered self-centered “navel gazing,” pun intended. Does writing about your own experiences, even zooming in to what’s happening inside your body, imply a fundamental lack of creativity? That you’re incapable of coming up with anything else? Of course not! But this is how it’s sometimes viewed. Jamison argues it should be enough to describe what’s happening to you. To say, “This is how I feel.” Acknowledging that, good or bad, is empowering. And writing about your physical afflictions can even help bring healing to others who suffer similarly. During her cancer and others’, my mom has found great help in counseling cancer-specific chatrooms and websites.

From The Atlantic

From The Atlantic

This is all particularly poignant to me because I know the power of acknowledging the body and its suffering. One of the first good poems I wrote, which was published in the UNC undergraduate literary magazine Cellar Door and won third place in their annual poetry contest, dealt squarely with physical pain and suffering. My boyfriend at the time had required emergency surgery resulting in the removal of feet of his intestines. He recovered in the hospital for two months, during which time I stayed nearby for a long weekend to visit him (he was living in another state to attend college).

That weekend was painful, awkward, and deeply sad. I tied his shoes because he couldn’t bend over to reach them. I watched a nurse wiggle a needle around under the skin of his hand for what seemed like five minutes, searching for a vein for the IV.

I struggled in writing several lines of the poem in particular, which are as follows:

“Sunday morning, while your mom was away,
you gently pressed my hand to your crotch
and closed your eyes for a languid moment.
With morphine-tinged speech, you said
it was good to feel pleasure, not pain.”

Keep in mind that I was 18 and the word “crotch” made me cringe. I mean, it still kind of does. But I remember the exact feeling I got after writing it down, a release. A flood of peace. I still felt nervous when reading the poem aloud to my class, and later when I submitted it for publication, but it is precisely the physicality of that moment that needs to present in the poem for it to be at all representative of how I felt that weekend, and what happened, and how young we were. The honesty of these lines scared me, but also invigorated me, which I needed in order to bring healing to myself.

Illness and healing are such huge parts of our lives! They’re right up there with love, heartbreak, loss, war, identity, and all other topics that make for great literature. As much as we’d sometimes like to, we can’t ignore the fact that we exist, thrive, and interact with others on this planet as a body.

I hold to the idea that we’d all be better off by simply acknowledging the existence of our bodies. Then maybe we can progress to acknowledging how our bodies make us feel, and maybe, finally, loving and embracing them. Until then, writing about the physical experience of living will do!

Love to all.

Notarized, a Poem

An original poem for you all. I’ve been writing very short poems recently; this was my attempt at a longer one.


Yesterday I processed paperwork for a dead woman.
She’d lived in Wyoming all her 67 years
according to the affidavit of domicile.
67 years all in one place – in Wyoming, no less –
which, though beautiful, doesn’t vary much
between its snowy granite peaks and limestone canyons
and plains empty but for sagebrush and sky,
from corner bars with canned beers in a fridge out back
to cargo warehouses with dusty parking lots,
all devoid of people who aren’t white and straight.

Spending your whole life in one place
is an experience I’ll never have. I want to be in all places –
I have five tabs open in Google Chrome for a hopeful vacation
to Costa Rica: flights, guided rafting trip, a treehouse
built on a mango tree in Cahuita out past the sloth sanctuary.
Reviewers say you can hear the ocean through open windows.
This Wyoming woman, her life spelled out
in front of me, notarized, never heard waves.

Beauty is “of the soul”

Back when I was in college, one English professor assigned us all of Edgar Allan Poe’s collected works to read. Most people are familiar with “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” thanks to our public school system and Halloween, but I don’t think many have exposure to Poe’s essays. If I were to list the most life-changing works I’ve ever read, Poe’s essays would absolutely be among them.

Actually, here they are – since people often ask me about my favorites anyhow:

  • Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam is a collection of poetry he wrote while mourning his best friend’s sudden death. Probably the most famous excerpt is “‘Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all.” This was one of the first books I read that I felt dealt honestly with the hardships of faith, particularly in times of great tragedy. One of my favorite sections, which I tried very hard to memorize, follows:
    I falter where I firmly trod,
    And falling with my weight of cares
    Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
    That slope thro’ darkness up to God,
    I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
    And gather dust and chaff, and call
    To what I feel is Lord of all,
    And faintly trust the larger hope.
  • Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours is also poetry though it really functions as one long poem, originally in German but many translations are now widely available. Rilke didn’t see much artistic success during his lifetime, and suffered from both health problems and severe dry spells in his writing. If I recall correctly, he wrote the entirety of Book of Hours in the span of just a couple short weeks. The poems are from the perspective of a monk, speaking directly to God. Perhaps the best indicator of the tone of these poems is the quote, “What will you do, God, when I die?” [“Was wirst du tun, Gott, wenn ich sterbe?”] There is so much beautiful, timeless imagery throughout! Below is definitely one of my favorite sections:
    I live my life in widening circles
    that reach out across the world.
    I may not complete this last one
    but I give myself to it.
    I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
    I’ve been circling for thousands of years
    and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
    a storm, or a great song?
  • Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel, translated into many languages from the original Czech. Similar to Updike’s novel, which I list next, the text is largely concerned with love and lust as it occurs between men and women, and how heavy these things weigh in our human lives. There are so many lovely, intensely internal passages throughout. The below is underlined in my copy:
    “The young woman smiled dreamily as she went on about the storm, and he looked at her in amazement and something akin to shame: she had experienced something beautiful, and he had failed to experience it with her. The two ways in which their memories reacted to the evening storm sharply delimit love and nonlove.”
  • John Updike’s Marry Me I mentioned above. Updike wrote so much that it’s hard to choose just one, but it helps that I haven’t read all of them! The plot consists of two married couples, neighbors, who begin affairs with one another, at first unbeknownst to one another.
    “‘Don’t be silly. We’re all depending on your sanity.’ Jerry was always saying things like that, compliments that cut like insults, thrown to trip her mind, which never failed to stop and puzzle over what was meant. For he did not invariably mean the opposite of what was said. In this instance she suspected it was true, they were all in their craziness and infatuation and self-deception depending  on her sad, defeated sanity to hold them back from disaster.”
  • To continue with the theme of interpersonal relations, particularly those which involve some derivative of love, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. This novel demonstrates that love and hate are not at all opposites, and in fact have much more in common with one another than most are willing to admit. Below is a passage where Mr. Heathcliff is discussing his love for Catherine:
    “‘…for what is not connected with her to me? and what does not recall her? I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree – filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object by day, I am surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men and women – my own features – mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!'”
  • Last is J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, which I must thank my friend Makaiya for forcing me to read while we were barricaded in her West Village apartment during Hurricane Sandy.  The character Zooey becomes obsessed with the meditative ideal of praying without ceasing, which she encounters in a book about a pilgrim. This obsession coincides with a breakdown of sorts. In the passage below, she is describing the concept:
    “‘Well, the starets tells him about the Jesus Prayer first of all. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” I mean that’s what it is. And he explains to him that those are the best words to use when you pray. Especially the word “mercy,” because it’s such a really enormous word and can mean so many things. I mean it doesn’t just have to mean mercy…. Anyway,’ she went on, ‘the starets tells the pilgrim that if you keep saying that prayer over and over again – you only have to just do it with your lips at first – then eventually what happens, the prayer becomes self-active. Something happens after a while. I don’t know what, but something happens, and the words get synchronized with the person’s heartbeats, and then you’re actually praying without ceasing. Which  has a really tremendous, mystical effect on your whole outlook. I mean that’s the whole point of it, more or less. I mean you do it to purify your whole outlook and get an absolutely new conception of what everything’s about.'”

So obviously I wholeheartedly recommend the above books, that is if you’re in the market for a paradigm shift. Anyway, back to the original point of this post, which was to highlight Poe’s essays and their affect.

There is an ongoing argument among artists about the function and purpose of art, which coincides with the well-worn argument about art for the artist (e.g. Emily Dickinson) or art for the people (e.g. Diego Rivera). Poe sees the former as 1) poetry to attain truth/passion, or 2) poetry to attain beauty. He adamantly falls into the second camp:

“…the point, I mean, that Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem…. That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect – they refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of the soul – not of intellect, or of heart – upon which I have commented, and which is experienced in consequence of contemplating ‘the beautiful.’ …Now the object, Truth, or the satisfaction of the intellect, and the object Passion, or the excitement of the heart, are, although attainable, to a certain extent, in poetry, far more readily attainable in prose. Truth, in fact, demands a precision, and Passion a homeliness (the truly passionate will comprehend me) which are absolutely antagonistic to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul.”

Poe then goes on to discuss how, in technical poetic particulars, he strives toward Beauty in “The Raven.” At the time, as an undergraduate, this concept blew my mind. That “aaahhh” feeling I got from reading a really excellent poem was actually my soul’s reaction to experiencing Beauty. And this is exactly why I don’t find it frivolous to both seek out and value beauty as it occurs in our daily lives. In fact, Milan Kundera has a passage in The Unbearable Lightness of Being where he admonishes the public for not recognizing ordinary moments of beauty, particularly in the occurrence of coincidences.

Let’s see, examples of ways you could seek out beauty today:

  1. Take a long walk
  2. Thank someone; express your gratitude (it will make you happier!)
  3. Read a poem (this one is a lovely example of Beauty)
  4. Make something, whether on the page, in the kitchen, between two knitting needles…
  5. Frame a few of those Facebook photographs you always find yourself going back to
  6. Pray
  7. Buy some flowers and arrange them at home


How do you value beauty in your daily life?