I just finished reading Republic Sublime, by Christopher Cessac, for the third time. Chris is a friend of mine who lives in Marfa, Texas, with his wife and little girls. I was lucky enough to befriend him while we were in law school together, and I even got to play in a band with him during that time. Anyway, I digress. The point of this post is to share the power of poetry.
This book won the 2002 Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry, a very prestigious honor that goes to one — count ‘em, one — book each year. That should say something right there.
There’s been a lot of hype recently about The Raw Shark Texts, including the local hype surrounding Steven Hall’s reading here at Wordsmiths in Decatur. I loved that book, and I loved Hall’s reading; the reason I mention it here is that Hall really tried to look at the text of his book as more than just words — he wanted to examine those works as visual imagery (hence the allusion to the Rorschach test in the book’s title). Hall did this through the use of several devices, including presenting the words on the page in a graphical format.
Cessac’s work demonstrates, at least to me, another device that makes words more than just words — namely, well-constructed poetry. And by “well-constructed”, I don’t mean that it rhymes. I mean that the words he uses, and the way he lays the words out on the page, are awesome. He uses countless biblical, historical, literary, geographical and mythological references, most of which are completely lost on me, but the beauty of his writing can withstand my ignorance. I don’t need to know who Christopher Smart is to appreciate his poem “Fragments of a Letter to Christopher Smart”, which includes this passage:
. . . much of madness is nothing more
than devotion misplaced, a passion of loss:
for widows, monks and lunatics concur
nothing hurts so much as loving too much
that which doesn’t move among this world –
a dead husband, a god, idea or cause . . .
I urge anyone who’s got the slightest passion for poetry, or who’s willing to invest a bit of themselves to see if one’s there, to read this book. It truly is remarkable what Cessac does with words, even when you don’t know what those words mean; the sound of them, the look of them, the flow of them, have given me a new appreciation for an art that I can’t claim to have cared for.