Saturday, November 18, 2017

Detachment and Distancing

From my earliest memories until well into my forties I had moments of very marked detachment from my surroundings. Sometimes when I was tired I would find that the room in which I sat and the people with whom I was talking were receding, and as I got farther away it was as if I were watching them in a movie.  I had a certain amount of control in that I could allow this distancing to continue or I could choose to reenter the situation by speaking or otherwise focusing my attention so that I was projected back inward and arrived among them with a thump.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


            A poem in Eavan Boland’s, Outside History, “On the Gift of The Birds of America by John James Audubon,” begins “What you have given me is, of course, elegy.”  When I read it I thought immediately of my wife Katharine’s telling me about her reading of old bird guides.  Even one published as recently as fifteen years ago is already a sad reminder of the past, she said, because it describes a world that no longer exists—the size of flocks, the range of birds, and even some individual species.  With Audubon’s Birds the world elegized is more than a century and a half in the past.  Elegy, writes Boland in this poem, is “the celebration of an element/which absence has revealed,” where “the pine siskin and the wren are an inference,” along with the hawk and the tern, of the rest of the past these colored drawings elegize. The attempt to record, describe, photograph, draw or otherwise memorialize is always "the celebration of an element which absence has revealed," is always elegy.