The divine magnet is in you, and my magnet responds. Which is the biggest? A foolish question - they are One. - Herman Melville in a letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Pittsfield, November, 1851

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Natalie Lyalin's Poems (by Seth Landman)

Herman Melville, taking a break from finishing Moby Dick, wrote the following in a letter to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne:

In reading some of Goethe’s sayings, so worshipped by his votaries, I came across this, “Live in the all.” That is to say, your separate identity is but a wretched one,--good; but get out of yourself, spread and expand yourself, and bring to yourself the tinglings of life that are felt in the flowers and the woods, that are felt in the planets Saturn and Venus, and the Fixed Stars. What nonsense! Here is a fellow with a raging toothache. “My dear boy,” Goethe says to him, “you are sorely afflicted with that tooth; but you must live in the all, and then you will be happy!”

Significantly, Melville then goes on to note:

This “all” feeling, though, there is some truth in. You must often have felt it, lying on the grass on a warm summer’s day. Your legs seem to send out shoots into the earth. Your hair feels like leaves upon your head. This is the all feeling. But what plays the mischief with the truth is that men will insist upon the universal application of a temporary feeling or opinion.

In Natalie Lyalin’s poems, anxieties are explored and, because of that, truths are uncovered. This is no light matter; not enough of us go as far. It takes courage to get down to – as Melville put it in that same letter – “the inmost leaf of the bulb,” to admit that we are subject to the whims of the world going on around us, that the all feeling works both ways. In Lyalin’s poems, experiments go all the way towards results which in the final analysis are achingly gorgeous, inconclusive, incendiary; the poems insist on more poems; there is more to say about the family, the friends, what life is like when you are brave enough to be someone who notices, who stops to take stock.

In desperate times, these poems are provocations to take an uncertain step, to open a scary door. In her poem, “Vision,” Lyalin writes, “The world was not yet discovered.” Then the world does things like travel and wait. When a poem happens, something is revealed, but I don’t know if I can discover something that I can’t tie down. Lyalin makes poems that posit a new frontier, where the world continues being discovered in time machines you conjure, words that don’t exist yet, and language that has just been delivered, right when you arrive.

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