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Affairs of the heart (04/27/2008)
By Janet Lewis Burns
In the world of mundane day-to-day routine, we are infested with news reports of tawdry affairs. Who can forget the one line that made Jimmy Carter as human in the public eye as anyone else? "I've lusted in my heart," endeared Mr. President to a red-blooded society rife with infidelity.

There's usually a place in our hearts reserved for our roots and our ancestry, the old hometown and its distant echoes. I wrote "A Certain Possession" for Lewiston's 125th anniversary in June of 1988, which I dedicated to my parents Lawrence and Meta Lewis. Two stanzas of that poem follow:

"Main Street today, her buildings aged and proud,/ betrayed by signs and seams of a facade;/ other bones inhabit ancient tombs/ and newborn business springs from younger wombs." "Lewiston" a legacy to those who stayed,/ A sojourn for those who've merged,/ And something sacrificed by all who left"/ A certain possession emerged."

Hearts and souls are drawn to captivating mysteries. The pair of cardinals I'd been watching, as I sat at my place at the supper table, seemed to be watching too through the glass deck door. Evening after evening, they never ventured closer from their perches in our neighbor's backyard tree. After weeks of glances, my interest waned to passive doldrums. Unexpectedly, one fine day, I saw them poking at the sunflower seeds in a deserted feeder. That was it? It really wasn't such a big deal after all.

One of my all-time favorite nature writers, Annie Dillard, wrote "The Writing Life," in which she did not romanticize about the profession, making it perfectly clear that writing a book is a long, tedious process. Much like my anticipation of the cardinals to make their way to our feeders, when they finally arrived it was a letdown. I had expected far too much elation from a trivial, meaningless occurrence.

Dillard stresses, "Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work." "Courage utterly opposes the bold hope that this is such fine stuff the work needs it, or the world. Courage, exhausted, stands on bare reality: the writing weakens the work."

A successful writer has to learn to be impartial while rereading and editing his or her work. Though self-indulgent composition nurtures some longing of the heart, the serious writer must be willing to sacrifice a portion of self for the sake of the whole.

Dillard is brilliant! She writes, "The written word is weak. Many prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, and it smells good. Writing is mere writing"" The reader must be enticed, somehow, to read beyond the first few pages.

Dillard muses, "The writer studies literature, not the world. He lives in the world; he cannot miss it." "He is careful what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful what he learns, because that is what he will know."

Poets become renowned for outstanding lines. Mention a lover's quarrel and that may bring to many literary minds Robert Frost's infamous words from "The Lesson for Today": "And were an epitaph to be my story/ I'd have a short one ready for my own./ I would have written of me on my stone:/ I had a lover's quarrel with the world." One's affection for place, kinship with nature, and personal intimacy with favorite writers and poets intertwine to make the individual whole and vibrant.

My poem entitled "Minnesota Migration," which appeared in a 1989 CSS Publications newsletter "The Whitman Way," ends with sentimental images of a writer:

"From one season to another/ all things alive move on/ sharing means and ways/ poets stray from beaten paths/ in search of deeper meaning/ and only other poets/ depart to migrate there/ leaning - ever leaning."

Frost, who passed away in 1963, shared this: "I could devote and dedicate forever/ to the truths we keep coming back and back to."

Amen.

Janet Burns has lived in Lewiston all her life. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com..

 

 

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