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These fragments I have shored against my ruins.
T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”
by Tara Hart
If nothing else, I am a reader. Perhaps because I always had my face in a book, my parents logically wondered when I would finally write one. As much as I love reading novels (the longer the better), I have also always been aware that I am not driven to create them. Characters do not haunt me, demanding I write their stories, as in Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. Extended, magical narratives do not spring into my mind on the train. My few hesitant attempts at starting a story and seeing where it would go led . . . nowhere.
And then our first child died, our Tessa. And that experience was too large to hold, and I was helpless to know where to put it. I only wanted poems. I had always loved poetry, but in the casually passionate way we love favorite foods. Now I came to poems in a state of complete surrender, starving to know I was not alone, that the world is not all just a darkling plain. Lucille Clifton. Mark Doty. W. S. Merwin. Sharon Olds. They said many things that helped. They said some things that called to other things inside me. Slowly, I found relief in getting a few words down: a line, an image, a phrase. Sometimes I could write a whole page, breaking the lines like twigs wherever they were weakest, and create what might look like poems from arm’s length, but they had no music. I kept writing a little at a time, though, grateful for tiny shards of light, and I’d throw the scraps in a box. Or I’d think of something at work – like a new fear of crocuses – and type it into a document called “bits.”
I wondered if I would ever be able to find sustained time to shore the fragments, and after a few years, the answers were all, suddenly, yes. My angriest, saddest lines, after thirteen discordant tries, flew into place like a blackbird and won a Pushcart Prize. I applied for a sabbatical, and received it. A friend taking a graduate course in design asked if she could work with me to produce a chapbook. And so in the spring of 2012, when Tessa would have been eight, I filled our birdfeeder, said a prayer of thanks, shook out the pieces, printed the drafts, and spread everything out on a table. I looked at my notes in the margins of great poets. In the softly silent house, for six hours a day, I listened to what I remembered. I followed those fragments, my breadcrumbs, my torches, planchettes. They were tickets, too, to a prize I was finally able to claim – the gift of understanding how I and my whole here and absent family are connected to a much, much larger story of love and loss, and what comes after. So I guess I do have that blessed clamoring that leads to the work, the words, and the release. It is one of my daughter’s many gifts, to turn me into a writer, after all.
Tara Hart co-chairs the board of HoCoPoLitSo and chairs the Howard Community College Division of English and World Languages, where she teaches creative writing and literature. Her chapbook, The Colors of Absence, is available at http://www.tarajhart.com/purchase.html
Co-chair of the HoCoPoLitSo board and Division Chair of English/World Languages at Howard Community College, Dr. Tara Hart previews a few upcoming Banned Book Week events in Howard County:
My New Jersey high school reading list made sure I met and never forgot Ray Bradbury’s perverse firemen, called to burn wherever books were found. Pop culture let rebellious ‘80s teens share Kevin Bacon’s Footloose character’s horror at finding that his new hometown is a place that incinerates piles of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five in front of the public library. Much more recently, Terry Jones’s treatment of the Koran lit a global flame that continues to profane what many hold sacred. Also, “Hundreds of books [including, ironically, Fahrenheit 451] have been either removed or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States every year. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were at least 326 in 2011. ALA estimates that 70 to 80 percent are never reported,” (www.bannedbooksweek.org). We may not understand, or feel we understand all too well, what drives those who burn or strive to hide books, but the good news is that the drive to protest such destruction and suppression is loud and sustained.
The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) celebrates National Banned Books Week (September 30 – October 6, 2012) and our freedom to read by partnering with Howard Community College to present an important conversation between Jeannette Seaver, widow of publishing giant Richard Seaver, and Michael Dirda, Pulitzer-Prize-winning critic for the Washington Post, about the historic role of Grove Press in the publication of banned books through discussion of Richard Seaver’s extraordinary memoir, entitled The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the 50s, New York in the 60s: A Memoir of Publishing’s Golden Age (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).
“Dick” Seaver had a unique gift for recognizing, appreciating, and advocating for the translation and publication of previously unknown authors, especially Samuel Beckett, and was a unique presence in the publishing age that ultimately delivered to American readers, triumphing through much literal trial and other’s error, essential titles that continue to be challenged by contemporary citizens, including Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Naked Lunch, The Story of O, The Tropic of Cancer, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The memoir resonates, in spite of his modesty, with a spirit of highly intelligent discernment and sense of vocation that played an enormous role in revolutionizing the American literary landscape, leading it from priggishness to possibility.
Michael Dirda is a well-versed expert on such landscapes and an ideal conversational host for Ms. Seaver, who is fascinating in her own right as an accomplished musician and later publisher who shared her husband’s intellectual and professional life and has her own opinions of and experiences with many of the literati mentioned in the book. It promises to be an engrossing, important, provocative, and academically enriching event, so come join today’s literati at “Freedom to Read: The Historic Role of Grove Press in the Publication of Banned Books,” with Jeannette Seaver and Michael Dirda, Tuesday, October 2, 2-3:20 PM in Monteabaro Recital Hall in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College. The event is free and open to the public. Also check out HCC’s “parade” of banned books and the media clip festival that week.
Dr. Tara Hart
Board co-chair, HoCoPoLitSo
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