Monday, May 25, 2015

Eating violets: the Olney poetry slam

A month ago Olney had its poetry slam, and that might as well be an eon past in a wider culture structured to rush ceaselessly onward. We live in torrenting rapids, which threaten to smash to bits anything that can't keep pace. We hurtle into the latest event, temporal proximity lending to whatever is newest a heightened, if false importance. 

I say this as a way to note I am very late in writing about this slam. I recognize, however, that endless haste is the world speaking and will chose to live in the eternal Now, in which a poetry reading at a Quaker boarding school outweighs events much closer to us in time and (seeming) importance.

Olney students enjoy the poetry slam. 

At the poetry slam, I was impressed by Lee Tran's recitation of Brenna Twohy's  "In which I do not fear Harvey Dent." 

Lee Tran performs Brenna Twohy's  "In which I do not fear Harvey Dent" in the girl's dorm parlor. 

Lines from that poem, which likens coping with mental illness  to being a superhero,  still leap out at me: 

"you have never seen me out of costume,would not even recognize me outside of this armor

When you have mental illness, society tells you your only power is your invisibility.
Tells you that they would save you if only they could see you,
but of course they cannot see you,
of course they will not save you, no matter how bright you sew your cape.
Invisibility is not a superpower,
it is the best weapon of a broken system
desperate to make their streets look clean
I know what it is to fight monsters.I know how strong an ordinary human has to be." 
Senior Noah Howells wrote a moving original poem about his four years at Olney, friendship, community and "mango cakes at midnight." Senior Joe Kingery read a poem called "A New Addiction Please" by John Brehm, which spoke eloquently to how upside-down our society is, asking why, instead of oil, we can't become addicted to the sun and the wind. Lichen Yang recited William Blake's "To See a World,"  going beyond the often quoted opening: 
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour

to the darker condemnation of human cruelty:
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State 
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood 

to the observation

Joy & Woe are woven fine 
A Clothing for the soul divine 
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine 


Some to Misery are Born 
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to Endless Night 
to a Quakerly use of imagery:

God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

     Concerns over language in prior slams led to a more decorous approach this year, and the running monologue of the facilitators, seniors Amihan Tindongan and Joe Kingery, spoofed propriety. Joe and Amihan kept the audience laughing with mock British accents, pinkies in the air and lessons in proper manners and inflection. The British-themed intermission included homemade scones and the hanging gauzy drape was a mannerly white sprinkled with purple flowers. 

At the slam, facilitators Amihan Tindongan and Joe Kingery spoofed propriety.

Discouraging the f-word, the s-word and other transgressive expressions can't, however, suppress poetry's ability to speak truth to power. As I listened, I was moved by the poems the students chose, and I sank into poetry's spiritual power, which we experience in our bodies as well as our minds. Even the early Quakers, frown as they might on romances (early novels) and drama, couldn't resist the allure of poetry: I think of Elizabeth Bathhurst bursting seemingly spontaneously into ecstatic couplets to express her vision of heaven. 

"An infinite ocean of light and love."

I learned at almost the same time as the poetry slam that humans can eat violets and that the leaves are high in vitamins A and C. For weeks, the violets were interspersed with the grass, and I added the bright flowers to salads. They tasted mild, faintly sweet, and seemed a metaphor for the Kingdom of God: it's all around us but we don't always know we can have it, not just watch it from afar but let it become a part of us. 

Violets bloomed all over Barnesville for awhile: "Eat and drink, this is my body given for you."

Eating violets also seemed like a metaphor for the poetry slam. With the seemingly fragile and ephemeral, we are touched and fed by the eternal Now.

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