Saturday, April 11, 2009
Poisonchanging, and Learning to Write
Lyle Daggett recently posted an essay on his blog, A Burning Patience, about the first poetry writing class he took, during the summer of 1970, between his sophomore and junior years of high school. The class was taught by poet John Caddy, together with St. Paul high school English teacher Dave Evertz.
Lyle writes about the experience of being young in those years:
The war in Vietnam was all over the news every day, was the great pervasive fact of life. All of the male students in the poetry class, and in the other classes in the summer program, would be draft age within three years, or two years, or a year. It was impossible to ignore, impossible not to think about, impossible not to have an opinion about. You would have to decide, you would have to act, somehow, or it would take your life.
That summer he learned how to write, developing a passion that has shaped him ever since, connecting him with writers and their words all over the world. I liked this memory from that first formative class:
And John told us, one day in class, a story from Hindu mythology, about poisonchanging, in which Krishna was said to have swallowed poison, and transformed it inside himself into divine song. The significance, or usefulness, of the story didn't really sink into me at the time, though I kept it with me, and over the years I've come to understand it as a useful metaphor for what poets are sometimes able to do -- to take the poisons and terrors of the world, and through the making of poems -- through telling the truth in poems -- change terrible experience into something good and beautiful and essential.