Dream of a Father

with a line from Kathy Acker

You wouldn’t have a child who couldn’t swim. You were dead-set,
damned sure of this. Until I left home I thought you simply chose
states of being, this one of them—

 

You shaved your beard completely, finally, in Massachusetts.

You drove off a bridge in a storm and held your pet rabbit up until
help arrived in Massachusetts.

You held the cage up, and when it flooded, the rabbit.

You taught me to touch the cold gem of Massachusetts in my mind
to make sure I still had it, like a coin in my pocket.

 

My idea of you was so sparse and childish it turned out
to be a good estimation.

Because he’s alone, a sailor’s always telling himself who he is.

Letter to an Aspiring Intellectual

I think back to this article more often than I care to admit, especially this part:

Perhaps you’ll be a dilettante: You’ll love what you think about and you’ll think hard about it, but you’ll be easily bored and won’t think about anything for long. You’ll read many things and (perhaps) write many, but you’ll read and write about disparate topics, and once you’ve read for a while about something, and perhaps written about it, you’ll move on to something else. Clever people—quick studies—are often like this. They have properly intellectual gifts, but they lack the patience for attention’s long, slow gaze, and so their intellectual life coruscates, sparking here and there like a firefly on the porch, but illuminating nothing for long. Some of the people you’ve read and delighted in have something of this about them. It’s partly true of Augustine and Newman, for example, and of Sontag.

I’d like to warn you against this tendency. It’s not that there’s anything deeply wrong with it. Suggestive and stimulating work can be done by dilettantes, and, as the label suggests, they tend to be true lovers of what they think about, even if they don’t think about it for long. Neither is there any sharp and bright line between the work of dilettantes and that of intellectuals properly speaking; the categories shade into one another, and it’s usually possible to find, even in the work of the most dilettantish, threads that make a single fabric. It’s not going to be easy to say when an intellectual becomes a dilettante or a dilettante an intellectual. There are, however, clear cases here, too, and the extent to which you embrace dilettantism is just the extent to which you won’t do serious intellectual work.

It’s a pretty Catholic take, sure, but it makes an argument for picking a field of study and sticking to it in a way I’ve found useful. I reword the last line to myself like so: “The extent to which you embrace [other stuff] is just the extent to which you won’t do [poetry].” I just went a month and a half without writing a single new poem and even though I got work done on other projects, including this blog, I wasn’t doing the work I’m committed to, and I did feel inattentive and distracted. I don’t take myself too seriously as a “poet” or “intellectual” but I return to this article periodically to remind myself what the habits of a thinking person are. I should probably be doing my daily pushups right now.