Heaney At The Hirshhorn
September 10, 2021
Watched him chat politely. They'd hand him a book. He'd ask a question, then nod, sign, hand it back smiling. Then he’d look out over the big crowd loosely lined up, inching toward the table. Cloud of curly hair, the thickets of sideburns framing his face, kind eyes, inquisitive, the rectangle glasses perched on the big nose. So familiar. It was a loud space, excited happy chatter bouncing off the polished surfaces outside the auditorium. The reading had been a great success. He was funny and self-deprecating, leaven for the deep seriousness of the poems. He enjoyed performing. He was good at it. His voice rolled across the cadences, the troubled history of Ireland wound round his own humble beginnings, the precision of his Belfast accent on the d, the clackety-clack roll of the r. He was still eight years from the Nobel, but he was the most famous poet alive.
When Sandy and I were half a dozen or so people back, a quizzical look crossed his face as he saw us. Now, after each signing, he cast the same look toward us. Bit of a smile. Trying to remember. Finally at the table, I handed him Station Island. He said, apologetically, “I know we’ve met before…” I was shy, tentative. “Yes, I brought you to Oshkosh…” “Oshkosh!” he leapt up, huge grin, laughing, grabbed my hand with both of his. “Oshkosh! That was the wildest night I’ve ever spent in America!” He signed “for Scott & Sandy Yippee for Oshkosh! Seamus Heaney 1.2.87” We pledged to write to each other.
I’d no idea what I was doing five years earlier when I invited him. I was the editor of The Wisconsin Review, the school’s lit mag. I had some money for programming. He’d recently started teaching at Harvard and signed with an agency to do a college tour. I booked him.
A year before that, fall of 1981, we’d been going to Fred’s every Wednesday night to listen to Fire & Ice, the jazz quartet. Fred, taciturn Chippewa, had a little dive near the river, and there were plenty of nights when the number of people in the band exceeded the number of us sitting along the bar. So we got to know the regulars. Segnitz taught at UWO, the local outpost of the vast state university system. He was the Review’s advisor and eventually he told me he could arrange for me to take over as editor when I started grad school in January. If I was interested. Willing.
When I was six and home with a fever, upstairs in the small bedroom on the east side of the house, I wrote my first poem. It was about Superman. I remember feeling giddy seeing how rhythm and rhyme bounced against meaning. Mysterious and perplexing. Thrilling. It baffled and excited me. From forever I needed to write. But what? But how?
By the time I was spending those Wednesday nights at Fred’s, talking with Segnitz about my literary aspirations, I’d been imagining myself a fiction writer, poems on the side. There’d be novels and short stories, although I had only the vaguest notion of how to construct either. I was immersed in science fiction and fantasy. In the big enclosed front porch of the apartment Sandy and I rented on Washington Avenue I strung cords from window to window over the table and paper clipped character sketches and maps and mini-histories of a world and culture that I was trying to create, inspired by Fritz Lieber and the dozens of SF and fantasy books I’d read through my teen years. It was building worlds that fascinated me. I had shades of characters, vague plot concepts. But I didn’t know how to make it cohere. I had a few stories that I was sending out to the magazines. They kept sending them back.
More than a decade before that, once I got my early teen hands on a guitar, I’d thought I’d be a songwriter. I wrote dozens of ‘em. Not that I knew anything about song structure or about chord progressions. My lyrics were primitive angst. “Twisted shadows in the rain…” “Every time I think of you / I start to cry…” That kind of thing. But I learned. My lyrics got a little better, my guitar chops and composing skills improved. By the time I got to JFK Prep for my junior year of high school, I was a better singer and player than most of my contemporaries. I played the standards of the time – the Bob Dylan songs, Arlo Guthrie, Neil Young, Crosby Stills & Nash, James Taylor – interspersed with a few of my own. Fewer as years went by.
I was serious enough about music that after I fled high school in the wake of the cocaine scandal and spent an aimless half year at the plastics factory (finishing my courses by mail), when Kevin persuaded me to go on to college I decided to be a music major. The structure fascinated me. The puzzles of keys and progressions. Tension and release. Why did that sequence of sounds compel that series of emotions? A tug beyond words. I wanted to know how to make it happen.
At the community college, studying with Frank Doverspike, it seemed plausible. My parents managed to rent a good upright piano. I took lessons. I wrote simple compositions, pored over Bach and Beethoven scores. I could see myself as if I had a future as a composer. Davey and I fantasized about writing a rock opera. But then I got to UW-Milwaukee, which had a very serious music program with serious, distinguished music faculty and very serious and cutthroat music students. It became quite clear quite quickly that success in this world required a single-minded devotion to the art and craft that I was unwilling to make. I was too interested in too many things (and too intimidated by the other students). By the middle of the next semester I was no longer a music major. I loaded up on Philosophy and English classes.
I kept writing, looking for my beat. Songs, poems, stories. I took a class with James Liddy, the Irish poet. The San Francisco Renaissance. Read Spicer, Duncan, Snyder, Ferlinghetti. Ginsberg. Nights, after supper and getting stoned with my housemates, I’d make my way to Axel’s to carouse with Liddy and the poets. Loud and profane and mad with the love of language. Scandalous Penglase and his tales of student seductions. One night, to the great amusement of the assembled, Joe Henry, the IRA gunrunner, showed up with Miriam Ben-Shalom, the lesbian Zionist who was suing the US Army for kicking her out (for being a lesbian, not for being a Zionist). Apparently the fires they recognized in each other were much stronger than the obvious differences and contradictions – for one passionate week, at least. (And how did I end up one night in Miriam’s leather jacket?) I read Ulysses for the first time. I read it for pleasure because the poets talked about what a rollicking and wild fun read it was. I loved it.
I wasn’t trying to make it as a poet. I didn’t bring my drafts along, as some of the other youngsters did, hoping for encouraging words. Whatever poems or stories I was dabbling with I kept mostly to myself. I was still imagining the singer/songwriter.
Sunday evenings it was the Gasthaus open mike. Wisconsin was eighteen for beer and the Gasthaus, in the basement of the student union, poured more than any other bar in that beer-drenched city. We’d sign up for 30 minute sets. I was popular. I’d spent a semester’s lunch money on the Framus 12-string. I could fingerpick on it, which dazzled the other guitar players. I could do the long songs – the whole monologue from “Alice’s Restaurant.” “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts.” “Tangled Up In Blue.” I still sprinkled in a few of my own. On stage, behind the microphone, I was bold and comfortable.
Offstage, not so much. My comfort zone was very small, and, though I didn’t see it at the time, it was getting smaller. My shyness, building since I was seven, was inching relentlessly toward the pathological. My professors were amazed when I’d come to their offices for one on one. I was articulate and insightful and fully engaged. My papers were brilliant. But I never said a word in class. I was okay with people I knew. I could manage groups of two or three. But to spontaneously speak up in front of a classroom of faces? Not happening. I could get on stage and sing to a full room, because the guitar and the songs protected me. Finish my set and go over to the table where the other guitar players were drinking and joking and sharing tips and teasing each other? Not happening. I couldn’t impose myself.
Still, I managed to arrange a couple of local auditions, was infuriated by the bar owner who said I was okay but needed to stop overdoing the Dylan stuff. I was pissed because I’d only sung one Dylan song. But of course everything I played or wrote was suffused with Dylan, even if I refused to own it. I got one gig, playing and singing while people ate in a little café. It went well, and the audience seemed to like it, but I wasn’t happy. I didn’t want to be background music even though I knew that’s how you start. But it was all terrifying and unsettling and after a bit I didn’t have any more auditions lined up and I didn’t make any more calls. I was getting married and moving to Oshkosh.
The guitar playing and the singing, writing my own songs, everything I’d rested my character on in Milwaukee, drifted away. I didn’t know how to hustle for it in Oshkosh. Maybe, I thought, it turns out the guitar playing was just a phase after all. A high school and college thing. Just one more kid with a teenage dream. I was wistful about leaving it behind, but okay! Sandy and I could still be artists together. Mutually supportive. I’d start with a factory job and write late into the night. She’d finish her art degree. When she graduated, she’d get a job, I’d leave the factory and write more. Poems, novels. Maybe short stories (although how they worked perplexed me even more than poems some days).
In the candle factory I’d have a book of poems in one hip pocket, a little notebook in the other. My job was “material handler” – to get the right packaging materials to the end of the line where the women gathered the wrapped candles skittering down the shoot and lined them up in their boxes and packed those boxes into larger boxes and stacked those boxes onto wooden skids that I’d scoop up with the forklift and bring out to the warehouse. The supplies were kept in a mezzanine where I had my perch looking down across the factory floor, the six production lines, where I could see who needed new supplies or who had a skid about ready for the warehouse. There was plenty of slack time. I’d go into a back corner for a couple of hits off a joint, return to my perch to write in a pocket notebook, or to pull out Howl or Four Quartets.
My shift ended at 10:30. The factory was a mile and a half from our apartment and when the weather was fine I’d run, just for the sheer physical joy of it. The factory work kept me in the best physical shape of my life. Sandy’d be in bed and I’d fix myself something to eat. Sometimes I’d bake something – I made a fine chocolate soufflé – and I’d wake her up for a snack. And I’d write. I’d study Poets & Writers Magazine, pore over Len Fulton’s Directory. Sent out my stories and poems. Plotted my fantasy novel.
The rejections mounted. An occasional encouraging note, but no successes. The factory work was mind-numbing, far, far worse than I’d romantically imagined. The novel wasn’t coming together. Editors weren’t interested in my stories and poems. I wasn’t emotionally capable of the hustling that a freelance writing career requires. I was 24 and trying to come to grips with the fact that, after giving up the notion of making it as a composer, or a singer songwriter, I wasn’t going to make it as a writer, either.
It brought a kind of weird relief. Because if I no longer had to deal with the pressures of trying to make it as a writer, I could use my free time for whatever I wanted. And what would that be? Well, writing, of course. But for myself, without worrying about publishing or selling. That seemed pretty safe.
I was turning further and further inward. I rarely saw my Kaukauna or Milwaukee friends anymore. Emblematic was me at the post office. To stand in line waiting to buy some stamps was torture. I’d start to sweat, my face would get flushed. When it was finally my turn, I’d stammer out what I wanted but it was painful. I was so afraid of getting it wrong. It was like that everywhere I went.
Social phobia. Social anxiety disorder. Selective mutism. Plenty of diagnostic slots for it all now, but I knew none of that then. I only knew the fear of being pointed out. Of being noticed. And disapproved of. Embarrassed.
But I had to get out of the candle factory. If I wasn’t going to be spending my stony nights being A Writer (as opposed to just writing poems), I was going to need to find a new way of making a living. Sandy was getting itchy about financial security. My fantasy about mutually supportive struggling artists wasn’t quite as shared as I’d thought.
I’d been a science snob in high school and college. I’d managed to avoid calculus (to my everlasting regret). Everything I knew about physics and chemistry I’d gotten from Isaac Asimov’s columns in Fantasy & Science Fiction (which was quite a lot, actually). But high school science classes? College? Unh-uh. And I was stupidly proud of that.
Computers were interesting, though. The science fiction I’d been inhaling all through the seventies and into the eighties featured computers. And I’d come across articles occasionally about how a career in computers was a promising choice for somebody looking for a path in 1980. My dad’d had a Sinclair ZX-81. One kilobyte of memory, expandable to eight. Membrane keyboard. Hooked up to an old B&W tv. Did just about nothing and was absolutely captivating.
But when I looked into computers as a trade it seemed as narrow and limiting as classical music had been. I was too interested in too many things.
I quit the candle factory. Spent six months plotting my next move. When had I ever had a job I liked? At UWM I did work study in the reserves & periodicals section of the Golda Meir library. I’d loved that. I’d felt obviously at home. And wouldn’t you know, the local campus of the University of Wisconsin had a library school! Well, no, not a school – a program. Started by a couple of women who’d been faculty at the very well regarded School of Information and Library Studies at the University of Michigan. Unaccredited (which meant nothing to me), half a dozen faculty, students mostly school librarians looking for a credential boost. My ignorance about what I was doing was profound, but I figured it’d work out.
I started running a linotype machine at Miles Kimball, the mail order outfit, in order to raise money for school. Made the lead slugs that were used to imprint personalized pencils and napkins and Christmas cards. Felt connected to Gutenberg. The guy who trained me was taciturn and focused on the work, which suited me just fine. I liked the process. I liked the machine. I liked the order and the mechanicalness of it; the slight whiff of danger from working with molten lead. The complexity of steps leading to the finished product. The solitude.
I’d come into work with the crowd and leave with them but I didn’t have to make eye contact, didn’t have to talk with anybody. The breakroom was too terrifying, so I never went. On my lunch break I’d go out to walk, eating a granola bar I bought from the vending machine.
I knew I was in a bad way, even if I didn’t know there were diagnostic categories for it. The day after Segnitz brought up The Wisconsin Review I shuffled through the fallen leaves trying to figure it out. It was sunny that afternoon, the fall air crisp, the familiar and welcome earthy scent of the crumbling leaves. It was a little chilly but I was sweating under my light jacket, miserable. I knew it was a turning point. If I said no, then my fears would determine my choices for the rest of my life. If I said yes, I had a chance to do something I desperately wanted to do, to engage with the world of literature outside of my room. But I would be putting myself into the world in ways that I’d spent the last few years trying to avoid.
I take it as given that most of the daily decisions that stress us out are actually completely inconsequential. Whatever we decide to do about today’s crisis will end up having very little impact on the actual course of our lives or the lives of those rippled by those decisions. (“Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.”) But then there are those occasional days when the divergent paths are indeed momentous and irrevocable. So there I am, all by myself, on a pretty, cool, sunny, brisk autumn afternoon in Oshkosh, nibbling my granola bar, on respite from turning molten lead into the names of young people whose grandparents will see that personalized pencils get into their Christmas stockings. The branches of my life are before me. It has never been so clear. Never before and rarely since. What does it mean to say that I made a choice?
Unpublished and unpublishable I might be, but now I’d decide who got into print and who didn’t. Thirty-two pages an issue. Three issues a year. I said yes.
I sat with each of the editorial staff, the half dozen students who helped select and organize the content. What did they want? What did they bring? This one was pretty and blond and oh so sure of herself. She was one of the Flaherty groupies, Flaherty being the English department’s resident boho poet. He’d been the Review’s faculty advisor before being ousted by Segnitz in a typical bit of academic skullduggery about which I knew nothing. Selecting the poems was easy, she said. You looked at them and picked out the good ones. I sighed, inwardly. “And what makes the good ones, good?” I asked. She didn’t stay long. I wasn’t much fun. I added editorial advisors of my own. John Harmon, composer, pianist, and spirit guide from Fire & Ice; Davey & Doc, reliable friends from my hometown.
The Review was organized as an independent student activity group so we had a budget of a few thousand a year for programming. Segnitz had seen the flyer from whoever was repping Heaney and said we should get him. He’d just started teaching half years at Harvard and every article about him included the Lowell quote calling him “the most important Irish poet since Yeats.” He told me later that he'd been expecting some greybeard professor from the English department to pick him up at the airport, not this 26 year old kid with a scraggly beard and skinny tie. Have I mentioned that I didn’t know what I was doing?
Segnitz had a fishing shack on the shores of Lake Winnebago, which is where we ended up after Heaney’s reading. I’d never been to a reading by a famous author. The Review wasn’t connected to the English department. (We heard later through the grapevine that few of the English faculty bothered to come to the reading, figuring this Heaney guy was some Irish ne’er do well friend of Flaherty’s). I didn’t know that the standard routine would’ve been a wine and cheese reception at the faculty club afterwards. We got a bottle of Jameson and some six packs of Guinness and eight or ten of us headed to the shack. We had a great time. Echoes of Axel’s with beer and an Irish poet and conversation rolling over and on top of each other. Davey had the wickedest wit of us all and was in particularly fine form, needling our distinguished guest about the Yeats quote. Heaney cringed at that, but once he got over the shock of realizing how different this evening was unfolding from what was typical, he gave as good as he got.
The hotel I’d booked Heaney into was a fleabag near campus that had hourly rates. I did manage to get him back to it safely, but had to rouse him only a few hours later. Sandy was doing feature articles for the local paper in those days and she’d arranged for him to do a press conference / reception at mid-morning the day after the reading. We dragged our hangovers back to campus, to the Pollock House, the fancy Spanish Revival building from 1920, gifted to the University by the president of Oshkosh B’Gosh (when it was the Oshkosh Overall Company). The press consisted of Sandy and an over-eager kid from the student newspaper. The reading had been a great success, despite the non-interest of the local English faculty (the liberal arts school down the road – Lawrence University – sent a busload of students), and the place was mobbed. Sandy and the kid talked over each other asking questions, while students pushed books and slips of paper his way to sign. He smiled and answered and signed, patient and affable, seeming only a little bewildered. I sat next to him, trying to orchestrate the madness until I could see his veneer thinning and figured it was time to get a drink into him before heading to the airport. I knew which joint on Main opened the taps at 11:30, so we piled in, me and Heaney and bits of my crew and hangers-on from campus. Boilermakers standing at the bar and then back to the airport and then he was off to whatever college town was next on the list.
Heaney went on to his next gig, but then he cancelled the rest of the tour. I felt responsible for that, in a good way. Perversely proud of it in fact. I never knew if he cancelled the trips because he was afraid there’d be more nights like that in other little college towns or he was afraid that there wouldn’t be. We traded post cards, but the correspondence never took off. My fault. I could carouse with him, drink with him, tell stories with him, but in the quiet of my apartment I was too shy to write to him. I couldn’t quite feature that he’d actually want to hear from me. I dreaded being a nuisance; or, even worse, a bore.
Such a hodgepodge of anxiety and arrogance I was. Timid, sure. Terrified, often. But sure of myself? Yeah. Very sure of myself. I knew people would follow me – they had since kindergarten. I knew my brain was quick. I knew I could write. I knew I had talent. I knew I was lucky. I just didn’t know what it was all for. You’d think I must’ve been insufferable. And yet, on the evidence of those who’ve loved me, apparently not. At least not entirely. I don’t understand it. I wasn’t humble, but I was kind. If my arrogance was overpronounced, so was my empathy. I ignored what I didn’t know and forced myself to go on.
In my teens, when I was still living mostly at home, I’d sometimes have a couple of beers late at night with my Dad. He’d’ve had several by then and I was probably stoned, having been out with friends but getting home more or less in time for my curfew. He’d tell me things about his life and his hopes and the things he wrestled with on his quest to be the good man. He told me two very important things. That it was okay to be scared. Because life was, after all, very scary. This was astounding coming from that guy, who I would’ve thought scared of nothing. Not just that it was okay to be scared, it was sensible! It was the appropriate response to dealing with the world. Later on I would quote this as “If you’re not scared, you’re not paying attention,” although I don’t think he ever actually put it like that. And he told me about a conversation he’d had with my cousin Michael, who was getting ready to usher a wedding (or maybe a funeral). Michael was very nervous, afraid of doing it wrong. Dad told him in most settings most people are unsure about what to do, but they’re afraid to let on, so they hide it. They’re scared, and they think they’re the only one. They’re looking around for somebody who looks like they know what they’re doing so they can follow. Just act like you’re the guy who knows. That was the secret power. You’re not the only one who’s scared.
By the time I saw Heaney at the Hirshhorn, we’d been living in DC for three and a half years. I was getting better at pretending to be that guy. The Wisconsin Review had been a huge step. Then, with my library degree I got a fellowship at the National Library of Medicine. I got training in public speaking, worked on group projects. I had a career now. I was meeting my responsibilities. Sandy was getting to be an artist but I was still writing every day, mostly poems.
I bought each of Heaney’s books as soon as they came out, relishing my special connection. I loved the poems and the translations. The way his language fills the mouth, reading him aloud was a physical, muscular exercise. The centuries of sadness and struggle springing from the ground on rhythm and rhyme. I was never much caught up by his prose, though. I’ve almost never read anything about poetry that helped me understand how to read it.
What is it about? What does it mean? People want to know. I want to get away from that need to know. When Rothko’s kids gifted 1,000 of their dad’s pictures to the National Gallery of Art in the early 80s (just after we arrived in DC) he was not nearly as popular as he is now. NGA mounted a blockbuster show and after the opening weekend where many in the crowd were actively hostile (“my little girl could do that”), the galleries were frequently deserted on the many days that I went back. Occasionally there’d be a couple of other people there and I’d hear them whisper, “But what do they mean?”
It seems I’ve been trying all my life to short circuit that pedestrian part of my brain that insists on shellacking meaning on to ordered prose. Get out of my way, brain! Psychedelics in my teens helped me see what prose couldn’t touch, that my excessively verbal, excessively rational mind couldn’t get me to. By the time the psychedelics had begun to bore me (junior year of college) I’d learned that the arts could get me there. “There” was what was called the ineffable. That which cannot be described in words. Sitting in a room full of Rothko’s pictures (Rothko was very precise in his use of language and he always referred to his work as “pictures,” never “paintings,” which tells you inscrutably much about what he was trying to do) I could open my self and shut down the endless internal chatter and experience them. The translation of the ineffable I called it. Abstract art. Symphonies and string quartets. Coltrane. Poems. Poems could do it, too. How weird is that?
There’ve been years when I worked on my poems every day; there were years when songs or fiction took precedence, but the itch to write the poems were always there. I was most serious about it in those years around my Heaney encounters. Not long after the Hirshhorn reading my career took Sandy and me to St. Louis. But the poems kept tugging at me. I took some workshops, even applied for an MFA program. Spent hours with a (female) friend discussing Rilke and Neruda, poems of our own. The marriage imploded. Turns out the two mutually supportive artists thing was only my own fantasy. I moved out, did readings at local open mikes, finally got a couple of poems published in a local magazine. I joined a band, fantasized about quitting my job, spent my off hours with painters and musicians. Negotiated mid-30s singlehood.
And stopped writing poems. No more poems. WTF? It happened without much thought and without regret. I still thought of myself as a poet long after the desire to actually write poems had passed. It took me a long time to realize it was gone. Apparently writing this essay has been an attempt to understand why. Turns out it was the letters.
Frisse said, “That woman has whole cities inside her.”
She was a professional colleague whose job was to build relationships with library directors. Like me. After politely avoiding her invitations to dinner for eighteen months, I said yes. To my surprise I had a wonderful time. So a month later, yes again. And then emails. I could tell her everything. That had never happened. I could hardly keep up with myself.
Her boss scolded her because her excitement when my emails arrived was disrupting the flow of things in her office. (But we were still “just friends”). So I started writing her a letter every day. Physical good Crane stationery fountain pen four and five and six pages letters stamped and delivered by mail. We were colleagues, then friends, confidants, lovers. It happened fast.
Different cities, busy travel schedules, so for nearly two years I wrote at least one letter every day, many days two, occasionally three. Who had time to struggle with poems? The letters became little essays. I’d found my form.
We married, I moved. New town, new job, new level of confidence (although still reliant on my Dad’s secret power). I still wrote letters to her when we travelled apart, which was often. My library career blossomed. I was a success. An in demand speaker. And there were the editorials and blog posts and professional articles that I always approached as if they were personal essays. Every memo I wrote was an exploration of creative writing. Every multiply revised email an exercise in creative nonfiction. Rhythm, sound, image. Looking for the poetry in even the most mundane of bureaucratic tasks.
Very occasionally I’d get the urge to try a line or two of verse, or maybe a lyric for a song. But then those scribbles sat untouched. From the age of six I thought I was supposed to be writing poems. I was wrong. Why did it take so long? I’ve no answer.
I never stopped reading poems, and these days I’m getting better at it, getting good at giving myself over to the experience, getting in on the side, past that linear, analytic rut. What, after all, did I learn from multiple readings of Ulysses? Of Pound's Cantos? To let myself float along on sound and emotion without worrying too much about the sense of every line. To note with delight how each re-reading of a poem is different from all the readings before and after. To trust the transformation of experience even when I don’t entirely know what’s going on. I’ve read poetry for insight, instruction, inspiration, enlightenment; while I’ve often been surprised and delighted, I’ve rarely read poems just for pleasure. I seem to be learning how to do that now.
I recently came to accept the fact that I’m not going to live long enough to read every unread book we have in the house. (Tsundoku – Meiji slang for letting them pile up.) That takes a lot of the pressure off. It doesn’t matter anymore how long it takes me to get to a book’s last page. Some evenings I'll come across a poem that sits just right and I'll spend the next half hour reading and rereading; listening and watching as it tumbles and unfolds. A poem is its own object in the world, unlike any other piece of text. Of course it has meaning – but not a meaning. To ask what the poem is about is a terrible place to start. Just as with humans and dogs and spiders and rocks and rivers, the poem is its meaning.
I found that verse was not my form, but I've never stopped pursuing poetry, looking for it in every line. What else so well reflects our beautiful human foolishness? We turn to the arts to try to cut through all the scrims of arrogance and envy and wickedness and loneliness and fear and embarrassment and hope and ecstasy and love and madness to touch the ineffable, to reach that pulsing heart of existence which, by definition, cannot be expressed in words. We’re desperate for it. We paint, dance, pound on drums, carve stone. The translation of the ineffable. But for our purest, most naked attempts to reach beyond our limits, what tool will we use, we brilliant, perplexing, confused, limited and limitless humans? Words. Against all reason, we’ll use words. You can’t make this stuff up.
Touchstone. Seamus Heaney, roaring with laughter in a fishing shack on the shores of Lake Winnebago, bottle of Guinness in hand. We’re all throwing our best words at each other, down for the joy of it.