constantly risking absurdity

Pulling out a college critique, remembering and loving what I learned, and willing to share this one because it's so fun. I'm sure I haven't "caught" everything in this poem, and I'd love to hear your comments on it below. But here's what I came up with as a poetry writing student. Comments in brackets are more recent additions of thought.

"Constantly Risking Absurdity" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a fabulously crafted poem comparing a poet to an acrobat. I love this comparison! This poet risks "absurdity" by breaking traditional expectations of a poem. He risks death of his writing career if his poetry is not caught by his reader--just as the high wire acrobat risks certain death if she is not caught by the "little charleychaplin man" (29).

I love Ferlinghetti's choices of words. [He plays with sounds, consonants ("constantly risking absurdity," 1, "balancing on eyebeams," 9), and vowels ("like...climbs...rime...high wire," 6-8), sometimes with alliteration ("perforcperceive," 20, "taut truth," 21, "fair...form," 31), sometimes with internal rhyme ("climbs on rime," 7). He combines words or separates them out, to make his own point, or just to show off: "any thing" (17), "charleychaplin" (29), "spreadeagled" (32).] He chooses the unfamiliar spelling of rhyme/rime (7) [which may intensify his risk taking since "rime" most often means an icy coating, leaving his "high wire" slippery and dangerous]. Ferlinghetti thus " a high wire of his own making" (7,8) as the creator of this poem.

He is a [super] "realist" (19) needing to express an accurate, concrete representation which he "by force of his circumstances" (Webster, "perforce," from line 20) "understands through his senses" (Webster, "perceives," also line 20).  Nims's textbook on writing poetry teaches the concept of using concrete images (Western Wind, 4), which seems to be exactly what Ferlinghetti is trying to communicate the importance of. ["Super" could mean he's a fabulous realist (wonderful poet), or perhaps, that he is above or beyond realism: Ferlinghetti was an advocate of surrealism.]

I love all of the poetic "entrechats" (13) and how Ferlinghetti accomplishes these great stunts without compromising the clarity of his poem (16-18). He has carefully placed each word just as an acrobat would selectively place each "stance or step" (22). I, as the reader, am sort of the "little charleychaplin man" (29) who has caught the "Beauty" (25) of this poem and absolutely fallen in love with it!

Ferlinghetti's chosen "form" (31) reinforces the risk of absurdity that is depicted in the content of this poem. He has chosen to use an absurd layout [not always accurately depicted on online versions, the lines of the poem were intentionally started at varying points across the page]--totally nontraditional and unconventional--and he forsakes the customary principles of punctuation and capitalization as well.

Yet his writing is "taut" (21)--tightly woven and "marked by economy of structure and detail" (Webster, "taut"). [He has created his lines--"a high wire of his own making" (8)--and he must across it.]

In my opinion, Ferlinghetti defied death with this poem...and won, poetically speaking.

Marginal notes:
Poetic puns:
"above the heads/ of his audience" (4,5)
"climbs on rime" (7) rime/rhyme
"sleight-of-foot" (14) foot/meter
["supposed advance" (23)]
"with gravity" (26)
["fair eternal form" (31)]

[Other critiques or analyses that I found interesting are here, herehere and here.]

Question: Some have wondered, does he mean that Beauty is on a higher perch that Truth, more important? [To me, Truth seems to be the rope, what he's crafted/written; The poet seems to be an acrobat performing alongside Beauty.]

[Question: Did Ferlinghetti have a Beauty that performed alongside him, perhaps another poet whom he loved?]

[Question: What does "to the other side of day" mean (12)? Does this go with "death-defying" (27) or is it different?]

Dear Judy: a tribute to a beloved friend

Judy always loved a live Christmas tree.
And she loved sharing what she loved with the people she loved.

Dear Judy, 
There are very few people who would open their homes to a young couple with their infant son, but you did that for us. Not that it was out of character, you'd welcomed a  young lady with three children before, even built the little boy a room of his own. I cannot express to you how much your love and open hospitality --even to the point of sharing your kitchen with me--means. From you I have learned that my life is not my own, that God rewards those who share, that cleaning your dishes before you go to bed really is worth the effort, that a dog can be a welcome friend, that giving is a blast, that sour cream and/or cream cheese make the best meals, and that Judy's house is always home.
Micah with Judy's dog: Sophie.
There's a small rocking chair in the baby's nursery. I will always remember what you told me about how it was the one thing your parents gave you, how they worked hard and there weren't many vacations, but that you knew they loved you. It is a visual reminder to me about what really counts in a child's life, and that it's not all about what money can buy. 
In loving memory

I cannot imagine the trial God is taking you through right now, and even though I have not communicated all that I wish I could have, I want you to know we've been praying for you, missing being with you, loving you. Being confident of your future hope, I am praying that God will give you the grace to keep on believing, to count even this as a joy if it means seeing your Savior soon, and that in the end there will be peace. You've worked so hard all your life. Rest is near. Give my little girl a hug and kiss for me. Talk to Jesus about us: pray that we'll be faithful here until He returns.
Sleep well. I will always think of you as a dear friend. Thank you for everything.
With love,

Judy went into the presence of her Savior this morning after a battle with breast cancer, a battle she'd actually won um-teen years ago. Ruth, a dear friend who stayed with Judy to the end, read my letter to her last night. Here is what she told me:
Michelle, I was able to read your email to Miss Judy last night before she passed. She was not able to communicate very well but she did squeeze my hand several times and I think I caught a very faint hint of a smile. I am so thankful that she is now free of pain.
My kids called her Aunt Judy. She was like family to us. Their prayer was that God would either do a miracle and heal her or that she would fall asleep and wake up in heaven. 
Miss Judy entered the presence of her heavenly Father this morning at 4:03. She went peacefully in her sleep. 
Please pray for those whom Judy touched--family members, neighbors, volleyball officials, shuffleboard friends, coworkers, as well as church family members. Many will be reflecting on Judy's life and testimony in the upcoming days and months. Pray that God will use the funeral as well as memories of her to draw souls to the same Savior she loved and lived for. For those who expect to see her again, pray that God will make our faith strong, our hope sure, and our lives a shining light like Judy's. 

With love, 

kind provision

As I sorted through the produce on the "50 cents per pound" table at our local farmer's market, the Spirit reminded me of God's kindness. In the law, He ordained that farmers not harvest all the way up to the corners with His kind intention being that the poor could glean some good. Boaz's kindness to Ruth, instructing his harvesters to leave anything they dropped for her to pick up, came to mind as well. And I felt a connectivity to those in generations long past because of our Ever Present God. The fact is, God never changes. He is kind. He is gracious. He looks out for the poor and provides for those who honor Him. It was a moment, a whisper, but it spoke volumes of encouragement to my heart. Some would say we're poor. I don't think of it in those terms. My Father is rich, and He gives me everything I need. And I'm thankful when His Spirit witnesses to my spirit that I am His, and He is looking out for me.

Trusting you are seeing God's sweet acts of kindness in providing for your family as well. Grace to you, my friends, whatever your circumstance today. With love, michelle

Proverbs 3

The metaphor in Proverbs 3 that has really caught my attention this week is verse 18:

"She [wisdom] is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed."
It's autumn in the Upstate, and the trees are absolutely beautiful! I could go off on that beauty actually being because of the loss of oxygen (or whatever), and that the reality is that the leaves are dying, preparing to fall to the ground and be crunched about upon, or bagged and composted, or left and buried beneath snow (if we're lucky). And you could say that's morbid. Maybe it is. But I could come back that without death, there's no life, which is a rich spiritual reality, and we could go on discussing deeper theology. 

A similar discussion came up recently in my sister's 2nd Grade Sunday School Class. They got a little deeper into the chemistry of it all, as evidenced by her chalkboard drawing, copied here:

But I've chosen to go a slightly different route. 

As I've thought about this verse, the "tree of life" actually brought to mind a tree in Narnia. Digory (who grows up to be the professor in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe) brings back a piece of fruit from Narnia's "tree of life" to give to his mother (who is basically terminally ill) with hopes of her recovering. 

His obedience and faith are both tested in the process of acquiring the fruit. 

In the end, his mother is miraculously healed, he plants a seed from the fruit in the backyard, and eventually he turns the wood from the felled tree into a wardrobe (which four children years later discover the magic to). 

First edition cover, 1955, Wikipedia image.
C.S. Lewis crafted a beautiful beginning to his Chronicles of Narnia in The Magician's Nephew. I've so enjoyed listening to it over the past few days (and, yes, this is where the photo spoof featuring Mark emerged from). It's been so much fun reflecting on the wonder of the creation of a new world. What a beautiful semi-allegory of the beginning of our world in the garden of God. 

Wisdom, like the fruit from the tree in Narnia, takes faith and obedience to acquire; but in the end, she brings the best of all this world ... and eternity ... can offer.

In his commentary on Proverbs, Pete Steveson (whom my kids actually call Grampa Pete because his wife was my mentor-mom at our local church) points out how we first see the "tree of life" in Scripture in Genesis 2 and 3, then see it again in Proverbs (here in chapter 3 as well as chapter 11, 13, and 15), and then we see it once again in Revelation 2 and 22. Grampa Pete points out the symbolism for "eternal life" in the Genesis and Revelation references, and applies the same symbolism here. 

Derek Kidner discusses the "tree" and the "fountain of life" together, and writes: 
"This tree or fountain symbolizes the blessings of a right relationship with God.... The Old Testament affirms that what was lost with Paradise and waits to be regained can be enjoyed in some measure here and now when man walks with God." 
Truth Talk Talking Points: 
  • Start simple. Ask, "what is a tree?" and see what your kid can tell you. (I asked Micah that this afternoon, and he gave a pretty good definition about it being a large plant that may give us fruit or flowers or maybe just leaves and shade; and then happily listed a few specific varieties he knew the names for. He is no longer perplexed by my random questions.) You may be surprised what your kids' answers are and how much they like sharing what they know!
  • Then, if your kids are nuts about Narnia the way mine are, talk about the "tree of life/youth" in The Magician's Nephew. The Focus on the Family Radio Theatre production is fabulous!
  • Now read Proverbs 3:18 together: 
"She [wisdom] is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed."
  • Remind them of vocabulary: "blessed" basically means "completely happy!" To "lay hold of" or "hold fast" basically means "to grasp and not let go of": they've probably heard the expression (or used it at school): "Oh, I get it!" or "I've got it." It's that sort of idea. You're not grasping onto wisdom like holding onto a tree branch trying not to fall, and yet in a way you are. Though remember that with wisdom, the key is not just knowing it in your head; it's applying it, living it out!
  • Now you're ready to talk about how we get wisdom: reading the Word, listening to our parents, teachers, pastors, etc.
  • Talk about the blessings that grow out of that: the "tree of life" that is your reward.
Craft Idea: 
For a final craft, make a tree out of cut or torn construction paper. On each of the leaves or on pieces of paper fruit or flowers glued onto the tree, write blessings that are yours when you grasp hold of God's wisdom and don't let go of it. (I'd love to have you post a picture of your kid's tree.)

I hope this post has given you inspiration to go talk with your kids. Yes, rabbit trails are great. Just make sure you do come back to the Word, for that is where we get Wisdom. And with Wisdom, there is great reward. Hang on tight! 

Now go have fun talking with your kids!