The other day, I used "tha" on a handout for my composition students, then realized that most of them had matured into a hip-hop too far past NWA for that to instantly mean both "the" and "the speller of this word with an 'a' must be at least a little bit gangsta." So, it's possible that they might not see me as gangsta. That's probably for the best.
While T.S. Eliot probably wouldn't have described himself as "gangsta," Frances Dickey, the marvellous Mizzou lit professor, was telling our class the other day that he tended to think of himself as a jazz poet, and not the high priest of obscurity that much of the world saw. Such phat rhymes as "Where is there an end of it, the soundless wailing" were, to him, maybe more verbal music than a gnash of teeth.
I spent a couple of hours this morning huddled over his "Four Quartets," with my attention first totally focused, then blurring into the empty space between the studious Chad and the Chad totally fed by the nectarous autumn sunlight out the window, and the bright flashes of glance through the front window by people trotting down the sidewalk, and realized that that space is where at least some of the poetry is set, that he's trying to find a place outside of time to just plunk down and stare at the world from, and that's exactly what I've been doing in my foggy recent years. He's investigating the electric connection between us and the industrial world, feeling "the wire in the blood," the surreal, popular connection between some of us and the Christian god, and all of the other connections he can think of, analyzing how each affects him and time, and, through it all, trying to get out of the self that's addicted to high society, toward the self that's pointed toward transcendence. The idea is that the high-society self has to be completely undone in order to pave the way for something greater, the God that comes as a darkness, as a "hollow rumble of wings."
His voice, in these poems, shifts based on his situation, and that fluidity of identity, that sense of self as something that can always dissolve and be remade, is something that bugs me, because it's something that I've had ever since I was a kid, and I stumbled on the thought that I had no way of independently confirming that anything was real. Some people have no problem just being themselves, and seeing all changes that happen to them as being situated within a stable identity. That makes sense to me; I've been pantomiming that approach for a few years now, and reading Eliot will show me a little more of a road map, I think. Although his approach did lead to wearing green face paint to night clubs, and I don't know if that's my style.
The most interesting part of sitting in the coffee shop, as always, was listening to the conversations around me, and looking up furtively at the beautiful people who walked by, and sat down, and talked--the man with the walrus mustache and the voice like a low chord on an organ who told the young, blond reporter about moving public benches to discourage the homeless from congregating in certain parts of town and scaring the public; the girl at the counter who speaks Spanish in a slow, honeyed tone; the dozens of other people who sat in there, or walked by outside, all caught in the same gorgeous quality of sunlight today, like they were absolute, and so was the light that hit them.
"Four Quartets" ends with "and the fire and the rose are one," and I've internalized that line in the last couple of weeks, as a way of talking about the merging of the internal, incandescent energy we all carry and the lush energy born out of love. But I don't know. If you see me wearing green face paint, you'll know my rose and fire are still separate from each other. Have a great day.