Saturday, September 24, 2005

Live from Houston: Saturday Afternoon


The sun is actually shinning and the streets are dry. There has been some blustery wind all day and you hear an occasional chain saw as someone cuts up a downed branch. Luckily, there is only one medium-sized branch down on our block, and lots of scattered leaves. We lost electricity from about 4:30am to 8:30am. But thankfully we are OK, as are all our neighbors. Late this morning I walked the dog and checked on the elderly woman who lives at the end of the block. She has lived there for 50 years and survived several hurricanes. She was tired but fine, and brought out her 1 month-old Quaker parrot. I had no idea she raised birds. She has two pairs, plus babies. I’ve learned a lot about my neighbors over the last couple of days – a great bunch and they definitely made riding out Hurricane Rita much better.

Luckily for us, riding out Rita turned out to be little more than a roller coaster ride, though a roller coaster ride with a big build up. There were 30-40 mph sustained winds all night long with occasional 50+ mph gusts – it was like a very long severe thunderstorm with no thunder or lightening. We didn’t get much sleep and we are tired, but considering that a couple of days ago they were predicting that one of the most powerful hurricanes on record would hit Houston head on, a sleepless night and an afternoon of tape removal and leaf raking is close to nirvana—just some karmic yoga.

The power and unpredictability of nature is awesome especially when compared to fragile human lives and our ongoing, but semi-futile*, attempts to understand and control nature and our fate. I’m reminded of Camus’ definition of absurdist reasoning:

“The acceptance of the desperate encounter between human inquiry and the silence of the universe.”

* I don’t say futile, because we have made technological progress – as one meteorologist said just 10 years ago once a hurricane entered the Gulf of Mexico everyone on the Gulf Shore had to be ready because they didn’t know if it would hit Mexico or Alabama, now they can do a pretty good job of predicting were it will hit within 300-500 miles 5 days out, giving people time to prepare.


When did everything become an “event”? I’ve heard several emergency management and weather officials say things like “flooding event,” “heavy-rain event”, “hurricane event?” As one of my neighbors quipped, “An event is catered.” Is this a byproduct of our entertainment-oriented society and/or bureaucratic-speak? Plus, it’s redundant – just say “flood” or “hurricane”, I know what you mean.


Poet/Blogger Brian Cambell commented:

I love your poetry quotes. Shows the usefulness of poetry in moments of crisis, and bolsters my faith in the in the relevance of this art we all love.

Which got me thinking about the nature of poetry—it is interesting that during recent crises—9/11, the tsunami, Katrina, and now Rita—I didn’t reach for John Ashberry, Wallace Stevens (who I love), Ron Silliman, or a first book from an Iowa MFA grad, but Donne, Auden, Eliot, Celan, Neruda, James Wright or the Chinese masters like Tu Fu or Li Po. What does that say about poetry?

I enjoy the aesthetic games and beauty of post-modern poetry – on a leisurely day Michael Palmer is lyrically wonderful and Ted Berrigan is disjunctively beautiful. But when I’m trying to make some sense of human experience, of human tragedy, trying to find, dare I say in this postmodern era, human truths, I find myself turning to poets who were also concerned with exploring these ideas in poetic language. Not that these other poets aren’t concerned with humanity, but I wonder has poetry become too caught up in the language game and become too removed from something more essentially human?

The wind runs free across our plains,
The live sea beats forever at our beaches.
Man makes earth fertile, earth gives him flowers and fruits.
He lives in toil and joy; he hopes, fears, and begets sweet offspring.

– Primo Levi


At 7:54 PM, Blogger Brian Campbell said...

Your poetry choices don't surprise me. Language game poetry is mindgame poetry, out of the head -- or rather, that tiny sliver about two millimeters thick called the cerebral cortex. In times of crisis, when our whole body is threatened, we reach for poetry that comes from lower down, that resonates through the chambers of our entire being.

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Ron said...


I'm glad it was just a roller coaster. If you would like to get added to my blogroll (as I'm on yours, I see), drop me a note at

I'd need a last name to figure out where to put you in the list,



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