The Power in the Combination of Words (and let’s not forget the Letters that make them)

A tough part of having an untethered thought process is to settle on just one topic to write about when you have so many floating around your head. Should I discuss the power in serendipity? The balance of mental health and creativity? The marriage of science and art? Obviously, I want the topic for this first episode to be a good one, and thankfully I know not to worry because within this act of wandering the solutions often reveal themselves. Almost like they are waiting.

 

Though I had a bunch of ideas (and I’m sure the most important topics will resurface when the time is right), it was an email from last month that would reveal the appropriate direction. If you’ve never discovered the weekly email from Maria Popova called The Marginalian, this is your chance (I must say I’m pretty excited for you to be swept away, which may sound dramatic, but I do feel it’s appropriate). Anyway, I tend to leave these particular emails unread until I have the time to really absorb them, as they always take me on a journey. One afternoon between Christmas and New Years, on the very day I announced this email endeavor, I noticed one of these emails inside several that piled up.

It was titled Universe In Verse, and was about an event she curates to celebrate the wonder of reality with stories of science and poetry. Now, you would think this would bring me down the path of one of the previous topics of the marriage of science and art, but it brought me down another path due to reading one specific line in Maria’s email. 

 

"To be human is to live suspended between the scale of gluons and the scale of galaxies, yearning to fathom our place in the universe.”

 

Upon reading that particular combination of words, I became transfixed. I read it again. And again. Yes, the way Maria stringed those particular words together stopped me in my tracks, and took me on a journey well beyond my physical location. This was seemingly my entire purpose in life, and she put it all into one damn sentence. After reading a few more times (and confirming through Google that I in fact knew what a gluon was), I tried to recall when I first became so taken with this transcendent experience with words. How just the right combination could conjure up such intense feelings. 

 

For years and years, I’ve danced in enjoyment within the world of Literature, always appreciating the configuration of words that spoke to me. Yes, I’m a visual artist first, but Literature would always come in a not-so-distant second. Even in college after declaring Graphic Design as my major (which furthered my fascination with the Letters that make up these combinations of words), I felt compelled to declare Literature as my minor. A perfect dance partner in hindsight as it furthered my many other iterations of the written word. Yeah, the dance with words always filled my heart, providing comfort, companionship, entertainment, and often enlightenment.

 

Although this was the case, Poetry always presented a slightly bigger challenge as I feel I often would lose myself in so many poems. In my earlier days I probably contributed that to simply not understanding what the poet was trying to convey, finding myself well off the beaten path within the words. Though I now know it was simply due to the mystery of how that combination of words can enchant you, romance you…and ultimately put a spell over you and take you someplace outside of yourself (and yes, it’s quite purposeful to choose the word “spell” here).

 

It’s important for me to give credit to one particular poem (and poet) that would shift my perception of what Poetry could be. This poem was introduced to me in a college classroom, and it was eventually included in my first book in a chapter about spiders…and as I look back upon that inclusion, I can also see how it bridged a gap between my major and my minor in college. Proving they were the perfect dance partners…and also falling nicely into a category of Universe In Verse:

 

Design by Robert Frost
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,

On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

 

I firmly believe that after I read that poem, it opened a gate for me to begin a life-long love affair with words. I remember discussing the poem in class and as the teacher read it I could really hear Mr. Frost's words. Yeah, sure, I could obviously hear them as he spoke, but it was at this point I first really heard what a poet was trying to convey (if you get my drift). I would also say that it helps to read poems out loud as you read, as the audible component is always priceless. You can feel the whole purpose of a poem, and it’s possible it could lift right off the page. Where it may enter you through the chest, and inject you with an abundance of feeling. Knowing what I know now, it’s very possible it’s at this point we could step into the author's imagination, and magically share their moment, feeling precisely what they were conveying…and it can even have the ability to catapult you to a different realm of consciousness (yes, dramatic, but is it not true?).

 

I’ve read the Design poem more times than I’ve read most poems, and each time I receive something slightly different from the words. Yes, I’ve had this experience from other poems by other amazing poets many times, and that list is growing longer seemingly by the minute. Currently, I am enjoying the words of Mary Oliver, John O’Donohue, and recently started to appreciate the work of Emily Dickinson (I know, I know, but wandering requires things to happen at the time they are supposed to happen). I’m sure the appreciation of each of these literary figures have vastly formed my own foundation over the years where a seed has grown exponentially in time. Not like a flower, a tree, or a bush, but more like a wild vine, spreading outward, across, over, and throughout everything in its path, attributing its growth to venturing into my own creation of poems. Of which, I can only compare this wide-spreading growth to throwing gasoline on an open flame. 

 

My turn from prose was as unexpected as any growth in creation and of course I contributed it strongly to wandering, only this time it was through the act of writing. Fueling blind faith to see where something may want to go. Being carried out by a vine growing all around town and in and out of myself. Not surprising, at least to me, is that some of these poems, if not ALL of them written over the past few years, could easily be categorized under the title of Universe in Verse. So, wouldn’t that realization make finding that link I spoke of at the start of this email so damn perfect? Ah yes, that feeling of a cozy blanket that is serendipity! Obviously, this appreciation for the combination of words isn’t just my own, and seeing the celebration of our existence through other poetic eyes makes that appreciation paramount to my own journey. 

 

It’s not lost on me how powerful certain words are in so many other literary endeavors, like finding the perfect line inside of a novel. Poetry within the prose. Various lines from Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea come to mind, the beautiful prose in some of Anne Rice’s novels, and of course that very last line of A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean (don’t just run out and look at the last line, but rather read this excellent short story and look forward to the buildup to that line). Then there are the endless depths within song lyrics, where I could write an entire book of the ones that speak to me the most, but they are all very strongly protected within the music industry and using them without consent from all parties is a bit of a no-no, trust me…though as I write this, I do see this topic as a possible later topic of The Wandering Mind. Or perhaps it’s about the inspiration of these words, which would make that topic much richer, would it not? 

 

As we wander our way to the conclusion of this topic, I think of my many travels within the written Words and about how my participation in these various forms of Literature have profoundly rendered me perception of reality. Not that it provided an escape, as my previous self may have thought, but how it’s rendered my acceptance into a newer, more expansive reality. How it’s changed my understanding of what life is…or can be. How I’ve come to understand that the right combination of Words can affect us in a way that doesn’t seem possible simply through the ordinary, common act of writing. How there can be an endless circular pattern of intently hearing what’s being said, along with the wishfulness of being heard. Yes, there is a mystery in explaining our connection between Words and the world, and it balances precariously between what’s real and what’s rumbling around upstairs. There may not be a definitive line between the two, but when you venture into the reading, or the writing, it does feel like we are invited into a realm outside of ourselves, yet somehow it’s deep down inside, too. Especially during the partnership of the perfect Letters forming the perfect Words and they are strung together into a magical configuration. This could be in explaining the intricacies, and grand plans of building a spider's web, but also could be in discovering a seemingly lost childhood memory. It could explain a moment in the day where everything aligned or it can take us to far off places like the surface of the moon, or even further into the dark that’s beyond our lunar fascination. This traveling can be near and far, proving to me that written or consumed, there are endless potentials within literature. 

 

Poetry is painting with Words. Whether in its traditional form or found inside a book, novel, graphic novel, or otherwise…the appropriate imagery is conjured and it seduces the mind, and there is a connection fortified between viewer and creator, and then back again. All going around us like a choreographed dance, a murmuration of starlings, or a school of curious fish. It’s here we can somehow find the order, briefly at times, but it’s there. Between the birds and the bees, the wind in the trees, the waves in the sea…and everything else that’s orbiting me. Ahhhh, this energy creates a bit of a cyclone in the mind...pulling Letters and Words together from nowhere. Ready to explode beyond what’s held on the horizon, or to slowly settle upon the landscape in the periphery. It’s endless in its potential, and to think, all of this beauty, this admiration, this power, starts with this simple exploration of forming Words. 




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