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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal: Finding Angie Wheeler's Poem 
29th-Dec-2007 11:11 pm
Back in and trying to settle down from traveling and visiting family over the Christmas holidays, and revving up to work on Chapter 2 of the dissertation. Just in from Starbucks where I was working on the main text from Sullivan for the chapter. Among other things while traveling, I tidied up a bunch of old computer files on my laptop and glanced through old journals. Taking care of a bit of that on my new desktop computer as well, I just happened to find something I'd thought about a few weeks ago, which I had feared lost: an old poem, the fair copy of which I hope is still tucked into a box of old letters. One of the stranger and more precious things in the world is to find yourself the subject of a piece of art. All these years later and I'm still only left in silence before Angela's words, not sure at all what to make of them. Or that's not exactly it: perhaps I think that they might be pegging me, or the me of those days, far too exactly – maybe even more than I'm prepared to understand. (Or perhaps that's all the overstatement and undergraduate drama. Either way, I find that the simple fact of the poem is still something I very much treasure, even though I've not spoken with Angie in years and years, and our friendship is really only a memory or a permanent piece of goodwill.)

Angela was the third part of my trio, along with Angie Brunner, in the summer of 1989, which I always called the greatest summer of my life: my second year as a Small Group Leader and occasional Trip Leader at Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center. Angie Wheeler and I were both writing quite a bit at the time, and while I look back at most of the verse I wrote in those days and shudder, it was a significant thing for me at the time to have a critical and sympathetic eye like Angie's reading my stuff, and to be allowed to read hers, particularly while I was openly carrying a big torch for the other Angie. Hanging with the Angies – I always thought "The Angies" would be a great band name – was at the very least a new high mark in learning to have deeper relationships with women at that point in my life. Later on, Angie wrote these words about me and I found them preserved in a Notre Dame journal, where I now read them for the first time in at least six years.

Sunday 4 Dec 1994
I was typing up old journal stuff from my Spring 93 journal and typing up some old verse when I found the poem that Angie Wheeler wrote about me. Thinking that I should copy it for safety, I couldn’t decide what file to put it into and decided to place it here. I think that she must have given me this when we lived in the Green House, probably around Oct of ‘91. I remember putting it on the wall of my and Dave’s room, in the corner facing the map of the Moscow subway system. Perhaps it came from earlier, when we were at High Terrace. I’m not sure when our correspondence lagged. It does come after we’d exchanged copies of some of our verse. I remember sending one of my little copy-books to her, I think containing even the rubbish of when I first began to try to write verse, back when I was running around with Ann Stahl. Anyway. It did also have some better stuff in it, including the verse where we both thought that I’d captured Brunner’s spirit.

A man to look at,
not touch.
Drifting away from
the world.
Fantasy in one hand,
God in the other.
Searching outside
longing for completeness.
Energy wasted.
Unfound tears,
beating against closed doors.
Seeing too much,
Compassion and guilt
walk hand in hand.
Entwined in reality,
not fitting the dream.

A man to look at,
not touch.
I read him carefully,
feeling so much.
My hand runs over the pages
believing, not believing.
Walking with him
I stumble.
Both, climbing and falling.
I reach out to him
But he’s a man to look at,
not touch.
30th-Dec-2007 03:39 pm (UTC)
Great googly moogly. She really liked antithesis, didn't she. But that's nothing compared to that repeating enjambment, which is a doozy. I'd only post that if I was sure it was no longer accurate -- or if I was a far more secure individual than I am.

I am reminded of a line in Sayers, relating to a sonnet composed collaboratively by the two protagonists. One writes the octave, unable to find the right sestet to solve the problem posed by the lines she writes. Later, she finds the poem has been completed by the other protagonist, whose sestet has found a solution she never thought of, but one that makes perfect sense both for the poem and for the characters. Thus...

"She went to bed thinking more of another person than herself. Which shows that even minor poetry has its uses."
30th-Dec-2007 09:40 pm (UTC)
Today I learned the words "enjambment" and "sestet!" I think it's a pretty rare day now where I run into two words I don't know! :-)

As to this piece, I never really took the repeating enjambment as an attempt at an objective description or assessment, and so never really had to be secure in either looking at it, or in letting others see this piece. I always took it to be more having to do with her individual relation or orientation toward me, particularly in reading and critiquing one another's work and, to a lesser extent, at being the observer in our trio regarding my feelings at the time for the other Angie in our tight group-friendship.

The Sayers anecdote and line is priceless: thanks for sharing it!
31st-Dec-2007 12:49 am (UTC)
Apparently I can't ever stop teaching -- or so I am told.

It's interesting, isn't it, how differing perspectives can be brought to bear on a work. You then, you a few years later, you now, a third party now... pity reader-response criticism is so hard to do, because it's so fascinating!

Fifty years ago, we trained people to strip poems of all context and judge only on internal data -- I'm not sure that in practice anyone was ever really capable of separating themselves wholly from the lure of the voyeur.

I was talking about this with Tim earlier today in the middle of other related things, and he said, "Do you think that sometimes we read too much into words?" He's going to get whacked upside the head for that little heresy in about 24 hours...
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