Michael Lauchlan, not currently weeping.
Recent Puritan author Michael Lauchlan discusses the preoccupations and obligations behind his poems “Brief Chronology” and “Rim” from the Winter 2014 Supplement: Bridging the Literary Border.
Years ago, I saw a documentary about the great journalist, I.F. Stone. Stone had the goods on the Gulf of Tonkin and countless other lies. In the film, he describes his exuberance about writing his weekly newsletter (which was all the McCarthy era blacklist had left him). He says he felt like a kid racing to watch a fire, but adds, weeping, “It really is burning.”
I weep all the time these days. Frequently, I write out of energized despair. Meanwhile I’m weirdly happy, singing the odd song the day has given.
After the Connecticut school shootings, my wife cried for days, avoiding the news when she could, but seeing the faces nonetheless, seeing our kids and grand-kids. The day after the shooting we visited Belle Isle, a grand old park in the Detroit River. She wasn’t speaking and I didn’t dare. Finally, I had to write something, but anything that included blood and weapons would be second hand reportage at best. At worst, it might serve to empower the myth that a shooting is the last word. Of course, in my town (to paraphrase Phil Levine) we waste kids’ lives every day, so our capacity for collective grief is somewhat well-developed. So is our refusal to give in to ugliness. That’s what I was after, the stunning resilience of life, that fragile breathing, bleeding miracle.
Similarly, in “Brief Chronology,” I am trying to stay true to the task of lyric poetry, telling the tale of one day in one place, but also noting the increasing global awareness of our arbitrary “luck,” being placed here and now rather than then and there. An old theme, of course, but a stunning quotation from an eloquent schoolgirl made me want to expand the frame. And a bit of rage creeps in.
Teaching has brought me into contact with some great kids and fine athletes, including, in “Rim,” a guard hitting a three. As in “Brief Chronology,” I am preoccupied here with the human capacity to focus intently on one thing, shutting out (for a time) all else. This ambivalent gift produces basketball, poetry journals, and piano concertos, but also a good deal of blindness on the “periphery” of our attention. Of course, my player immediately lets the “world” reenter the frame after the ball leaves his hand. I’ll strive to emulate his grace.
Michael Lauchlan’s poems have appeared in many publications, including New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The North American Review, English Journal, Innisfree, Thrush, The Tower Journal, Nimrod, The Dark Horse, Apple Valley Review, and The Cortland Review, and have been included in Abandon Automobile, from WSU Press, and in A Mind Apart, from Oxford. Lauchlan’s collection, Trumbull Ave., is forthcoming from WSU Press.