I recently took a short trip to the beach to escape “buzz.” Do you know that sensation I’m referring to? Not the hum of a summer fly trapped in your kitchen, more like a ubiquitous sensory and informational shower of input. There’s almost too much to process out there, and “out there” is bigger than ever before. We’re wired in and logged on; there’s a new image or report coming from every direction each minute.[frame align=”right”][/frame]Upon returning to the beach after 12 months away, my intense fascination with seashells swelled. I embraced my inner biologist and unabashedly roamed the beach head-down, visually combing for ornate or eye-catching shells. But this year I refined my search after reading an article in The New Yorker about Matthew Jensen, a young Brooklyn conceptual landscape artist who’s a pro at looking. With a keen sense of attention and visual acuity, he’s found everything from 19th century clay pipes to Murano glass beads of Manhattan’s fur trading days. Relaxed and inspired by my beach read, I set out looking for the smallest fragments of seashell still possessing some detail or pattern. As I moved my eyes five feet above the sand, noting small craters footprints made, the color and texture gradients from dune to sea, I was amazed at how quickly I could scan to the smallest little flecks of color or texture, like a pelican catching the glint of a fish’s scales. It might sound inane to hunt for fragments at the beach (on vacation, no less), but before you crown me Nerd of nerds, you should see this miniscule complexity up-close. Somehow, it drove me to writing.
In the opening line of his poem, “Auguries of Innocence”, 19th century poet William Blake writes: “To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wildflower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour.” Far from 1803, we seem to face the inverse of Blake’s challenge these days: to see a grain of sand in an overwhelming world. As I stared down the beach to a pier, imagining the ocean ending at Portugal, the vastness drove me to something small and comprehensible, distilled down to a sliver the size of a hangnail. Kind of like a poem. There are days when every laugh tells a thousand stories and every shadow holds a poem. But a shadow doesn’t come without the sun and its perfect angle.
For poets like myself, our very work creates an inner compulsion/responsibility to simultaneously mind and ignore sensory buzz for the cultivation of content. While washing dishes with kids roaring five feet away, I glimpse a woman’s mysterious profile in my neighbor’s broken window. Maybe she’s the subject of my next poem.
So amidst this buzz, the bings and beeps, while waiting in line in a crowded grocery store, walking downtown to your car or home, take this poet’s recommendation: look wide and look close. Push and pull at the buzz. Listen to what’s said and unsaid. Focus on the miniature to expose the grandeur, and vice versa. And feel free to walk around with your head down.
-Lisa Ryan, co-poetry editorShare this post with your friends.