Yes, Of Course, But No, by Karl Patten

“If there are no more forests, there will be no more poets.”
—Jonathan Bate on Robert Harrison’s FORESTS

Yes, of course, but no.
The poets must live deep
In the dark wood, where fear goes on four legs,
Never bares its teeth and almost smiles,
Where temptation lurks behind each oak
Slightly showing a bit of herself, always
A hairy something from some part of her soft,
Warm body, that needs caressing, and parting,
And the poet limps about, shaded,
Never going forward for he knows he does not know
Anything of direction, progress. Born
To be lost, he likes veins in fallen leaves,
As mysterious to him as what he sees
Every day in his own palm, telling him nothing,
Delights in the parasitic vines throttling
Tree trunks, which also go nowhere, and loves
The deadfall that often trips him, stiff
Reminders of how hard it is to keep a rhythm
An allegorical place, the forest
Spreads correspondences, holy and green.


Adorno said: No poetry after Auschwitz.
There was. The poems looked like survivors, Bareboned, hollow-eyed, starved, trembling
At the fact they were alive and speaking words
In which the silence of the unspeakable echoed.
The greedy men who clear-cut and bulldoze forests,
Men who cannot see beyond their fingernails,
Work at a genocide like Hitler’s and Himmler’s,
Cannot see they are killing their children’s
Childrens’ future. The saw and saw for profit,
And will and will.
But after everything is stumps
Slashed down and burnt out, wilderness made
A flatland, ready for asphalt, even on hills,
Breathing nearly impossible for lack of leaves,

A few poets will rise up on their skinny elbows,
peer with haggard eyes at that bald, treeless
Space in front of them, will speak with some style
And good cadences resounding words, limping About in the dark woods of themselves, convinced
Words will stand, trees in a lost forest.

Source: Karl Patten, TOUCH, pp. 67-68.

COMMENT by the author

This poem, rather unusually, came directly out of the epigraph. That is an astounding sentence and is supported by Harrison’s FORESTS, a book I can recommend heartily. And the somewhat strange title bounces directly from the epigraph, for, much as I was/am impressed by Harrison’s book, I could not give up the lack of poetry in our future.

In order to find a way of disagreeing with (or partially disagreeing) Bate/Harrison, I went to Canto 1 of Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY for the first six or so lines. And Dante will, in minuscule and quiet ways, underlie most of the poem. None of this should be notice by the reader; I am saying that the Commedia was essential for me in writing the poem.

The second full paragraph allows me to say through the imagery of a wood what I believe to be true of poets in general. The the two lines before the break open out, stealing from Baudelaire (and perhaps Emerson), in order to say what the forest gives us.

Next, I allude to Adorno’s famous remark concerning Auschwitz, which I immediately disavow, for I am thinking of the poets of Eastern Europe, who suffered through Nazism and came forward with a stripped, yet powerful, poetry. And that naturally led me to Hitler and Himmler, whom I liken to today’s corporate looters and their unceasing greed.

Finally, I return to the poets who have survived this raid on our planet (a different kind of genocide) and show them still speaking, believers in the permanence of words, bringing the forests of themselves into being, the place they started from.


Letter about Deaths Due to Lack of Insurance

Organizing for America- the organizing branch of the Obama campiagn that stuck around afterwards, has a great example of using technology to rally people.

I wrote the following to Chris Carney and as I got into it I wanted to give it a broader audience.

Dear Rep. Carney,

I am here for Betsy and Lisa [Names changed]-

We must pass health insurance reform now.  Too many people and businesses face warped incentives or grim and miserable health due to the burdens of our perverse and broken system.

Betsyworks full tie in a private child care facility.  She is a single mom.  She often baby sits infants for many families and is always willing to help people with sick children or other events.  Her selflessness allows others to pursue their careers as professors, doctors, and business leaders.  Her employer, a day care center subsidized by a local employer, does not provide coverage.  She had such severe back problems she could not sleep.  Friends pooled $300 to help her see a chiropractor.  She limited coverage now, but is still an injury away from financial crisis.

Lisa has leukemia.  She works cleaning people’s homes.  She cleans and cooks for her husband every day, even when he has been furloughed or been between jobs.  She stays married to a disinterested, neglectful and nearly abusive husband because she could never afford individual coverage, or even get it with her leukemia.  Where is her freedom to live her life?  The combination of patriarchy and our health care system is deeply unfair and sexist.  I think only the strength of her personality and her adult son keeps her husband from raising his hand against her.

Millions are uninsured.  In 2009, one study found 45,000 Americans died due to lack of coverage. [1] They used a rigorous method used by researchers in 1993 who found around half that number then.  Among those 45,000 are more than 2,000 uninsured veterans.[2] On 9/11, 3,000 of our citizens were innocent victims and became iconic heroes.  We endure 15 9/11s every year through 45,000 private tragedies of martyrs to a broken healthcare system midwife by a corrupt political system.  We have marshaled billions of dollars and 100,000s of soldiers to avenge the fallen of 9/11.  Meanwhile, we engage in trivial “death panel” and “reconciliation” food fights at home while our fellow citizens are chewed up and spit out as corpses by the broken health care system.   Why should the public tragedy of 9/11 count for so much more all these years than the sum of 45,000 private tragedies year in and year out?

Where is the justice in that? How is that fair?

[1] Heavey, Susan.  Sept 2009.  “Study Links 45,000 Deaths to Lack of Health Insurance.”  Reuters.

[2] Physicians for A National Health Program. Nov 10, 2009. “Over 2,200 veterans died in 2008 due to lack of health insurance.”