A couple of days back I rescued 20 minutes from a morning otherwise frittered away on routine errands. This rescue was effected in my favorite Denver used book store, where I picked up a copy of Harold Norse‘s Memoirs of a Bastard Angel. I would have snapped up the book in any case, but had there been any doubt the preface, by James Baldwin, would have clinched the deal. Baldwin notes:
All that I am equipped to recognize in the effort of any poet is whether or not the effort is genuine. The achieved performance, insofar as it is susceptible to contemporary judgment, can only be judged by this touchstone. And by genuine effort I do not mean good intentions, or hysterical verbosity, or frantic endeavor: the effort I am suggesting scours the poet’s life, reduces him, inexorably, to who he is; and who he is is what he gives us. But he gives us so much more than that, for his giving is an example that contains a command: the command is for us to do likewise.
That this example and this command are terrifying is proved by the lives of all poets, and that the example and the command are valid is proved by the terror these evoke. One is commanded to look on each day as though it were the first day, to draw each breath in freedom, and to know that everything that lives is holy.
On a more personal note, Baldwin also says of Norse that “for a very long time we saw each other not at all. But each knew that the other was somewhere around, and, in the peculiar way of poets, and to our peculiar gods, we prayed for each other.” As a more-or-less atheist I was surprised by the power this statement had for me. It made me realize that there are some poets out there with whom I feel this kind of connection, though I don’t know if they’d find any comfort in it. My peculiar gods are especially peculiar, go-with-the-flow types (or archetypes), beautiful but unresponsive. Nevertheless….