I'm about 50 pages into "Heaven's Coast," a memoir by Mark Doty. The book found me precisely when I needed it, in the middle of a season of old trauma and grief. It's an incredibly, incredibly beautiful book. I wrote Mark a note today on Facebook, but thought that I would share it here - why not? The questions I have are so gnawing, I might as well fling them into whatever space is available.
I've been having an ongoing conversation with a friend about elegy, which has spread into a conversation also about consolation and catharsis. My friend's basic thought can be summarized inthat elegy "does nothing" - he finds no consolation in writing poems about the traumatic events of his life, but returns to them over & over involuntarily - this time of year, for both of us, the record skips.
The act of writing elegies for the same event or person over and over seems perhaps to be nothing more than the wild impulse of disbelief focused into page, the clearest, smallest space we can understand, a place where, as writers, we have the illusion (maybe) of manageability. My friend writes with no hope for consolation, with no hope that others might find his work cathartic (if they do, I think he's pleased, but he doesn't "aim" towards it). I haven't quite gotten there - I've an odd sense of responsibility surrounding trauma, surrounding death. I wonder, lately, if my sense of responsibility comes only from wanting the experiences to feel extremely unique - the desire to have been "chosen" almost, as some sort of voice to speak for those unable to express their traumas that are like mine. To have terrible things happen, and to not have a sense that they've happened for a reason - it leaves us with nothing almost, doesn't it? But there must be a space after reason - these things happen...and then life continues happening, and we go on, or we don't..
My friend suggests that there are some of us who are inconsolable, and I began to wonder if what's inconsolable gives us a type of terrible privilege, this sharp access to a sense of mortality, and perhaps, humanity.
I could babble about these things for awhile, as they've been a kind of film over the rest of my life lately, but perhaps as I continue to read "Heaven's Coast," I'll find more answers, or at least different lenses, which, in fact, might be as close to consolation as I'm going to get. Not so bad for a poet.