One Evil That Concerns Literature

There is one evil that concerns literature which should never be passed over in silence but be continually publicly attacked, and that is corruption of the language, for writers cannot invent their own language and are dependent upon the language they inherit so that, if it be corrupt, they must be corrupted. But the critic who concerns himself with this evil must attack it at its source, which is not in works of literature but in the misuse of language by the man-in-the-street, journalists, politicians, etc. Furthermore, he must be able to practice what he preaches.

W.H. Auden. The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays. Vintage International, 1988. P. 11.

The Beauty of the Weapons

Occasionally, I come across poems that have similar themes. I like to keep a record of them, or respond to them as if I were part of their conversation.

Fleet Visit

The sailors come ashore
Out of their hollow ships,
Mild-looking middle-class boys
Who read the comic strips;
One baseball game is more
To them than fifty Troys.

They look a bit lost, set down
In this unamerican place
Where natives pass with laws
And futures of their own;
They are not here because
But only just-in-case.

The whore and the ne’er-do-well
Who pester them with junk
In their grubby ways at least
Are serving the Social Beast;
They neither make nor sell–
No wonder they are drunk.

But their ships on the vehement blue
Of this harbor actually gain
From having nothing to do;
Without a human will
To tell them whom to kill
Their structures are humane

And, far from looking lost,
Look as if they were meant
To be pure abstract design
By some master of pattern and line,
Certainly worth every cent
Of the billions they must have cost.

W.H. Auden, 1951

The Beauty of the Weapons
El-Arish, 1967

A long-armed man can
carry the nine-millimeter
automatic gun slung
backward over the right shoulder.

With the truncated butt
caught in the cocked
elbow, the trigger
falls exactly to hand.

These things I remember,
and a fuel-pump gasket cut
from one of the innumerable
gas masks in the roadside dump.

I bring back manuscript picked
up around incinerated trucks
and notes tacked next
to automatic track controls.

Fruits of the excavation.
This is our archaeology.
A dig in the debris
of a civilization six weeks old.

The paper is crisp and brittle
with the dry rock and the weather.
The Arabic is brittle
with the students’ first exposure

to air-war technology and speed.
Ridiculous to say so, but
the thought occurs,
that Descartes would be pleased:

the calculus is the language
of the latest Palestinian
disputations
in the field of theology.

The satisfying feel
of the fast traverse
on the anti-aircraft guns
is not in the notes.

It lies latent and cool
in the steel, like the intricate
mathematics
incarnate in the radar:

the antennae folded and rolled
like a soldier’s tent,
sweeping the empty
sky and the barren horizon,

the azimuth and the elevation,
sweeping the empty air
into naked abstraction,
leading the guns.

The signal is swirled until it
flies over the lip like
white, weightless
wine from a canteen cup.

Invisibly, the mechanism sings.
It sings. It sings like a six-ton flute:
east, west, always the same
note stuck in the rivetless throat.

And yet, a song as intricate
as any composition by Varese,
and seeming, for the moment, still
more beautiful, because,

to us, more deadly.
Therefore purer, more
private, more familiar,
more readily feared, or desired:

a dark beauty with a steel sheen,
caught in the cocked
mind’s eye and brought
down with an extension of the hand.

Robert Bringhurst, 1967

A Prison Psalter

I’ve begun a slow project of poems in the voices of various inmates reading the Psalms. Millions of King James Bibles are regularly distributed to inmates each year, and I’ve heard that all 150 Psalms cover the range of human emotion. I’d like to believe it.

My hometown of Amarillo has two state prisons. One named the William Clements Unit is strictly high security. The names of inmates and their transgressions are public record, so I’m pairing a psalm with a convict currently housed at the Clements Unit. Each will likely be a different style or form, as each convict’s crimes will be illuminated with a psalm. Here’s an example:

TDCJ ID: 02290142
Aggravated Assault of a Child.
7000 years.
Age 41
Psalm 8

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, and the hum and the buzz and the blue flicker of the fluorescent tubes that wink and exasperate for decades like an overhead highway stripe, flashing the marked path with a tease of reflected light to burn without ceasing night and non-night, projecting on my closed eyes a map of blinking veins, so that, if my eyes would focus, I could consider the vision of my own pulse, kept steady by my unsleeping lizard brain, yet the what-is-man-that-thou-art-mindful-of-him part of me is up, which means I lean on the cell door attempting to name each noise on the block: wall taps, snoring, roaches clicking under my feet, bosses ascending and descending the metal grate stairs, pacing the catwalk where I can see the soles of their boots as they pass over me, and beyond them the impenetrable ceiling, and below me the inviolable floor, and if somehow I could break free, past these guards, through these walls, I’d be standing in the concrete yard under the sealed vault of floodlights, the mouth of a babe testifying against me.

In Defense of the Writer In Residence

Chera Hammons. Photo Credit: Daniel Miller

West Texas A&M University employs a writer in residence. As a WT alum, this is a source of pride when I speak about my education, but admittedly, I’m a little wistful. This position didn’t exist when I was a student there. I wish it had. Despite studying great works of literature by writers from all ages and all over the world; despite pursuing a course of study focused on writing, there wasn’t anybody from our area with whom I could have had a conversation. There were simply writers I read who lived elsewhere or in some other time. As one writer I know said as he expressed his frustration with this area: “Writers around here either languish or leave.”

Currently, the office of writer in residence is ably filled by Chera Hammons, award-winning poet, novelist, educator, and advocate for our area in the larger literary world. Recently, that position has been under scrutiny from a new administration who has to make tough budget decisions. This has me wondering about the value this position holds.

WT was founded in 1910 to train and supply teachers for the burgeoning Panhandle population. In the subsequent century, WT has increased the local human resource by training young people to specifically address the needs of our area in business, agriculture, engineering, nursing, and technology. WT also has the Sybil B. Harrington College of Fine Arts producing, among other things, writers.

Good writers, or writers of a beneficial imagination, flourish on the same resources as writers of bad imagination. For every credentialed, large-hearted Chera, there are also a hundred online commentators producing noxious reactions. Our local university should subsidize a writer, especially of Chera’s talent, to indicate that certain types of stories should be valued above others.

Ag producers are subsidized to produce five specific crops because they feed and clothe the world. One-fifth of these crops produced in America are grown in our High Plains region. The subsidies provide stability for producers to weather fluctuating markets and fickle circumstances. Surely, we believe our stories, our view of the world, would also benefit the imagination of America. The Texas Panhandle could produce a Twain, a Dickinson, and a Hawthorne if they had the margin to write without being harried by the market. Subsidizing a single writer to produce, as well as supplement the instruction of a team of professors, is a minimal investment that has far-reaching benefits for our region, and ultimately the university who made the investment.

If you’re interested in writing on Chera’s behalf, you can email Dr. Neil Terry (Provost of WTAMU), or Jessica Mallard (Dean of the Humanities).

Correspondence

I have been bestowed with the pleasure and special grace of corresponding with a few people in my life. Email is the the wrong medium; although, that’s the form it takes. How is it that the same inbox contains a thousand advertisements, a few tedious meetings being scheduled, a steady supply of rejections, and very occasionally a letter from a friend that must have taken hours in the composition and a lifetime for the understanding (but also, beautifully, a schedule for a meeting)?

One man’s attention to the world around him conveyed in the grammar of his note begs me to raise my attention. I cannot write rote sentences in reply; it would be an ingratitude for the gift. The proper register is not a missive, but poetry. If, in the infinite variables of time and taste, there are people who read what I write, I’d lay these letters next to anything else I’ve written. If, as the canon of Scripture maintains, that letters written between people could be the breathed Word of God, then I’d hope that these letters last forever.

Each click that tosses an email into the virtual trash robs me of time to respond in kind to my friend, but I suppose I have all the time there is.

Happy New Year

Hello all that may be reading this on a social media outlet. In 2020, I’ll take time off from the normal social media retinue. There are reasons which are well documented by everyone who decides to take time off from social media.

I’ll write more at this website, which will post to those accounts, but I will not be checking Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Right now, those accounts exist to point people back here where I hope to write longer thoughts.

If you’d like to get in contact with me, then please reach out to sethwieck (at) gmail (dot) com.

Critics

For an art scene to flourish, there have to be good critics. I’d bank that they’re as vital to local art thriving as the artists. They criticize when work comes up short and call the artists to better realize their ideas. They also understand the context in which art was created, so the work can be exported to an audience that wouldn’t have otherwise appreciated it.

I don’t know what Tom Mooney thinks of my stories, but I’m glad he has a copy.

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