Waiting (in sorrow?): Across The Way #2

One of the most irksome struggles with one’s own mind is the discovery that on an almost constant basis it wants something other than what is has.

It can sometimes feel like being stuck in Terrible Twos Mode with no escape. But of course this is what minds do. They think they know what’s best (which is often what they’re most comfortable with) and they impose this thinking on everything.

With learning poetry this arises as a niggling thought: “Wouldn’t that line be better/easier to learn/more in sync with my thinking if I changed this word for that?”

There will always be a moment in the learning process where I want to phone up the poet and say: “You know that second stanza, Naomi, the one that begins “Before you learn“? Wouldn’t the line sound better with a ‘can’ in it: “Before you can learn…”?”

Thankfully I don’t have Naomi Shihab Nye’s phone number so my choice is either that of changing the line and letting the two-year-old mind have its way, or accepting (and learning) the line as it is, maybe even trying to understand why the poet decided not to use the modal verb{{1}}. The latter often leads to enquiry and a deeper understanding of the poem and oneself. The former, in my experience, usually leads no place interesting.

For better or for worse I do have Rogan Wolf’s phone number, and so was able to give him a ring and say in a  Terribly Twosome way: “Would you mind if I learnt the first line as simply ‘Waiting’, rather than how you’ve written it?” I explained why{{2}} and he very generously gave me his blessing in the matter. I’m still not sure if that was the right tack to take, but that’s how I’ve learnt it.

Before you start emailing Rogan asking him if you can just change willy-nilly any old line of his poem, I should also mention that I had other changes in mind too, which, he diplomatically did not agree with, at least not as authorized versions of ‘Across the way’. I suspect he is enough of a libertarian to say “Well if you want to do a free-jazz cover version, mangling the words to your purposes, do so, but it will not be the poem as I wrote it.”

[[1]]I think in the case of Shihab Nye’s ‘Kindness‘, placing a “can” in that line would open up a slightly haughty space of optionality and conditionality, like a set of instructions on a Bruce Lacey Robot. Press Button A for Kindness. Shihab Nye is not presenting a recipe for Kindness, which would just render the poem as twee, but rather setting out some Universal Laws which are in play whether we like them or not. It’s more a Physics, a Psychology, a dharma of Kindness than anything else, from which you can extract your own “message”. [[1]]

[[2]]Because when I’m waiting, I’m often more aware of those myriad selves (anxious, hopeful, trembling, wishful, fearful, impatient) than anything else. Or just aware of waiting per se. “Waiting in sorrow” didn’t speak to my sense of how waiting feels. Which is why I should perhaps have learnt it as written?[[2]]

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