River of Stones: Day 25

….a man goes far to find out what he is –

~ from In A Dark Time by Theodore Roethke

How splendid is the Internet? To have at my finger tips a tool so powerful, that at 5:30 am I can Google Theodore Roethke, read a Wikipedia biography of his life, read half a dozen of his poems, purchase his book of poetry, The Waking, for which he won the Pultizer Prize through my favorite independent bookstore all while sitting in my pajamas, listening to iTunes? I am playing is an equally splendid album by an Indian American percussionist named Karsh Kale. I bought his album Liberation while searching iTunes for new writing music, and like a British Naval telescope that ever expands permitting distant sight, I bought Kale’s album in tandem with Niyaz’s self titled album and Loreena McKinnett’s Nights in Alhambra. As I made the playlist, I discovered I already had two of Kale’s pieces. They apparently came prepacakged in the sample music of Microsoft Windows Vista. It is a lovely backdrop to restore a writing space.

But back to Mr. Roethke.

While I don’t begin to comprehend poetry, the distillery of words and imagery, a condensed, intensified, fermented creation. In the last 25 days, I have watched and read poems by other participants in this AROS writing project; I watched a women named Peggy write flash poetry this past weekend at a writing marathon that blew my mind. Hher words and phrases still float in my mind like glimmering dust caught in the beam of late afternoon sunshine that pours through a window, nearly suspended, drifting, floating, waiting to swirl away as I pass by.

“Lying on his side under the blue comforter, he was the piedmont and ripple of my bed”

~ Peggy Miller in a poem about HOME

In 30 lines or less, how to you write a poem that encapsulates a lifetime of searching for self and that which might explain what cannot be explained. The biography says Roethke suffered from manic-depression. Roethke carried quite a burden into adulthood. The year he turned 15, his beloved father died from cancer and his uncle committed suicide. These two men seemed to be sentinel figures in Roethke’s life…..and the stalwarts of a family business. Now a  rudderless adolescent, six years later Roethke slams full force into The Great Depression. And again I run up against my disdain for the medicalization of emotional and spiritual turmoil. While I KNOW pharmaceuticals and cognitive therapy are very effective at addressing mental illness….and I have no doubt that mental illness truly exists because I estimate an easy 20% of my medical practice deals with psychological ailments and their discomforts…..how can we label grief? How can we process loss and fear and an agonizing desire for understanding? For a soul touched by imagery and whom feels the flow of life and the universe, poetry and writing can assist…..but usually the words, like spilled ink, seep away into the Void unanswered. Peace is found when one can be at ease with simply putting the words to paper or speaking them aloud.Poetry is not something I UNDERSTAND. It is like music or abstract painting….it evokes an emotional response. I can’t always expalin what I feel, like seeing a shade of blue never before known. It’s blue but more or less of the blue I know. A poet can make me feel something in the general category of sad or dread….but it is a gross underestimation of sadness. And like sipping 30 year old Scotch…..or a vintage Boudeaux….or an exotic chocolate…..poetry requires a palate which I am not certain I possess.

I shall think about Theodore Roethke today. I will add him to my menagerie of  beautifully broken souls that seek answers. He joins Walker Percy. And Ruth Stone. And Samuel Taylor Colridge(who was my first high school poetry assignment….I had to memorize the Kubla Khan). And like Peter Pan, I shall fly with my shadow happily and firmly attached to my feet.

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