It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us, any of us, but if that is so then let us set up a last agonizing, blood-curdling howl, a screech of defiance, a war-whoop! Away with lamentations Away with elegies and dirges! Away with biographies and histories, and libraries and museums! Let the dead eat the dead. Let us living ones dance about the rim of the crater, a last expiring dance. But a dance! –Henry Miller
Some people don’t care to read. They aren’t in love with words. I don’t understand those people.
Look here, at these crazy times we live in, where everything that is not the right kind of Christian, the right kind of patriotic, the right kind of right way of thinking, is wrong, is evil, must be eradicated.
It’s hard not to be scared. It’s hard not to wonder how we will get through this, you and I, America.
How do you get through?
Here is my favorite thing about reading and writing. Through reading and writing, you enter into conversations that have been going on for centuries. You can watch ideas from one person take root in the art of another.
Look here at Miller, again, dancing in defiance, as I wish I could. He knows that “It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us,” but in the face of that, he insists we “set up a last agonizing, blood-curdling howl.”
And then, we listen closely and hear that very noise: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked […] who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz […] who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war”
Holy! Holy! Holy! Indeed and Amen.
America, here’s something I never told anyone. When I first moved to Nashville, I was so lonely, with only the tv and the radio to keep me company. And every night, I would read Walt Whitman out loud to myself, little by little until I heard “Song of Myself” out loud three or four times.
You can do no better by a poet than to read him or her out loud. You cannot read Ginsberg out loud (go back and try those few words and see) and not be changed.
You cannot read Whitman out loud and not be in love with the America of these poets.
What I mean is that this bullshit we see on TV or hear on the radio, this angry, scared, superstitious mess that hates women and hates science and hates poets and men with guitars and three chords and the truth, that hates real living children and the sick and the elderly and the poor and the immigrants, this peculiar strain of Americanism is not the only one.
There is another strain, peculiar in its own way, dreamed up by poets and songwriters and dreamers and prophets, and that America is still within reach, it’s just as traditional and historical and real, as this shit we’re in right now.
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise;
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse, and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine;
One of the Great Nation, the nation of many nations, the smallest the same, and the largest the same;
A southerner soon as a northerner–a planter nonchalant and hospitable, down by the Oconee I live;
A Yankee, bound by my own way, ready for trade, my joints the limberest joints on earth, and the sternest joints on earth;
A Kentuckian, walking the vale of the Elkhorn, in my deer-skin leggings–a Louisianian or Georgian;
A boatman over lakes or bays, or along coasts–a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes, or up in the bush, or with fishermen off Newfoundland;
At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and tacking;
At home on the hills of Vermont, or in the woods of Maine, or the Texan ranch;
Comrade of Californians–comrade of free north-westerners, (loving their big proportions;)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen–comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat;
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest;
A novice beginning, yet experient of myriads of seasons;
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion;
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker;
A prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.
I resist anything better than my own diversity;
I breathe the air, but leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.
–Walt Whitman (How can you read that and not feel better? How can you read that and not love that America?)