Every once in a while I get reacquainted with a poem or two and want to effuse about poetry, so I thought I'd fire up the old email machine on a platform that doesn't have gross transphobic tech-bro vibes. (RIP to my shortlived Substack, you had a better UI than the benignly neglected Tinyletter, but I can't hang with your whole thing.)
A flippant remark I like to make about myself, which comes from a true place, is that I make all my decisions based on vibes. So having briefly caught a favorable vibe for writing about some poems, allow me to introduce "Reasons to Survive November" and the mostly wholesome constellation of nonsense it brings to mind. A content warning as you click: there's some discussion of self-harm in this poem.
Something about the motion and simile-accrual in the first stanza is Brautiganesque to me, with November becoming a powerful entity like Trickortreat and moving like a flame. I like the symmetry of the trains in the first and last stanza, as if the poem carries its own caboose, running itself around the little track of its logic. I like that the reasons for survival are as small as a bowl of soup or the option to see some paintings of barns. In this poem as in life, I like that there are options, things that might occur in the world as the vibes permit.
The monosyllabic adolescent dramatics of "shove joy like a knife" in the second-to-last stanza almost make me laugh aloud, remembering a moment when a friend did laugh aloud at a Mountain Goats lyric I found very serious and dire in 2005. (Said lyric was "wringing out the hours like blood-drenched bedsheets," which, admittedly, is kind of doing the most.) It's a poem of surviving for pure stubborn spite, dragging your donkey soul through life like a stubborn dog who needs to be convinced to walk around the block for their own good, making it through the days again and again -- until little by little things look brighter and you're able to stand in the sun of those brighter days.
In my tired winter-fogged brain I haven't solidified the connection beyond "poems with titles about survival" but I also want to drop in "A Litany for Survival" because it's important and moving and monumental, things that the slight and sly "Reasons to Survive November" isn't really. I like the heaviness of "litany" here; it feels appropriate to the content. I like the liminal shoreline in the first stanza and wonder if "blessing the boats" might not set out from that same shore. This is a poem of bearing witness, a poem that honors growth in hostile climates, and a mantra in Black feminist thought.
"Claw it back" has been a theme in my journaling this year, for many antecedents of "it" - my attention span; intimacy with friends; my desire to write/make things; even my ability to organize my email rationally, to name a few "it"s it has been. I am trying to sink my talons more fully into the world as I want to make it, even when it feels vague and shapeless. Even and especially when I myself feel vague and shapeless, as often happens in long days in front of screens.
That's all to say I hope you keep surviving. Be well, reply anytime.