Monday, October 19, 2009

The Grandeur/Blandeur Question

After seven days in the aspen gold of Ghost Ranch, after six nights sleeping in cool adobe with windows open to autumn sage , to owls , to 5 a.m. crying of coyote; after hours of poetry and working heart-to-heart back and forth on the page with eight amazingly engaged individuals who made sentences sing, tick and breathe with heart; and after thinking we were done, that last day I was reminded: a lyric poem can go afoul and make a person mad.

I don’t mean "mad for love," Harjo-like, or Rumi-mad. I mean mad with ferocious opposition.
“No. No. You cannot blanden the Grand Canyon or flatten Eiger “ went the heated argument.
Suddenly, we had fallen out of lyric mode and into concrete eco-conversation. The poet’s words had sounded some alarm, had sounded literal.

You may know the poem I am speaking of: Blandeur. Kay Ryan’s poem is itself a playful argument harkening back over a hundred years to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ praise poem: God’s Grandeur. Now here we were , a poetry class on our final day in Ghost House, surrounded on all sides with ancient majesty. No wonder. I see now. A prayer for less of all this bounty? That could hit a nerve.

If it please God, the poem begins, let less happen . Clearly, more was happening, as cries rose up against Ryan’s supposedly anti-nature sentiment. I tried to make a case for metaphor, as I am absolutely sure Ms. Ryan, our current poet laureate, does not advocate the destruction of our most transcendent places. Look at it this way: sometimes we can hardly bear the glorious, the monumental, that love-too-large for our small hearts. If it please God, give us a day without the drama, the glacial sorrow, even the deafening water fall of over-joy.

The faith of this poem is that the Divine will not withdraw forever all the world’s graces but will understand that we’re having a moment, a runneth-over-moment, and may, in compassion, flatten things out only long enough for us to get a better breath. Though Ryan may be waxing witty and hyperbolic , I think the Grandeur/Blandeur dilemma is at the heart of how to live -- some days large and brave; some days tucked into the crevice of a pinecone.

It’s good to be reminded how blasted strong a metaphor can be, hitting people differently. And surely we each have a singular G/B quotient. I go to Ghost Ranch for a giant dose of grandeur. I come home to Oklahoma for a nice even plain of wheat and quiet days to write what can barely be contained.

Heaven knows, we joke, and pray, and make mountains metaphors distinctly. If it please God, let us all find our own true north. But next time I might not end a week of Ghost Ranch gloriosity with a poem calling out for bland. (perhaps our lives back home fall too easily in that direction anyway) No, next time I think I’ll invite Father Hopkins to be the final speaker and let him shake us into shook foil and send us home, not blandened, but all grand new.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Jane-

    That is a heartbreaking poem of Ryan's. I have a cd of her reading her work for the WCU Poetry Salon and she says as she introduces that poem that it is for people 'who find life excessively vivid..." I think that she's one of those people. When I'm at Ghost Ranch, I'm always feeling like God is hitting me over the head with some oar of beauty, saying something like "you ungrateful little snot."

    But, that's just me.

  3. Okay, Stephanie. How about you write that poem...oar of beauty? Like you need another assignment. Still, I'd love to read it if you do.

  4. Jane
    The class was warm, supportive, fun and uplifting. As usual I enjoyed it to the fullest. Ghost Ranch is a sacred space for me and renews my spirit every year. I am so blessed to be a part of the Ghost family and to have the opportunity to learn from you.

  5. Teresa,
    You are a fine poet. I hope we have lots more chances to share stories and good times at the Ranch. I loved The Pecan Tree.

  6. Jane,
    I tried posting yesterday but it does not look like it stuck and I thought I was really being clever! I will try again.
    Your bit was well said. We did have an exciting finish to a good week. There was much grandeur in the discussion. But should it have been blandeur? Maybe for some but not for others.
    I thought it was a good example of the safe environment you nurtured in Ghost House. We were not afraid!
    Cheers from north of the 49th parallel,