" ecoliteracy, "Angles of Ascent", "Midway, :" "The Shadow of Sirius, albatross, Book of Kells, Carl Sandburg, Chris Jordan, climate, Fritjof Capra, Great Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch, Great Western Pacific Garbage Patch, gyre, Hawaii, Ireland, Kevin Young, literature, science, Solar Eclipse, W. S. Merwin, William Butler Yeats
Every time poetry breaks through into my quotidian affairs I get a shiver. It happened at Connemara, the home of poet Carl Sandburg, evoking William Butler Yeats’s poetry for me. It happened in Florida when the Dog Star Tavern came into view even as I carried around a copy of W. S. Merwin’s “The Shadow of Sirius.” It happened most recently in New York, but that incident is just for my heart to know.
Now, however, I see that a spectacular light show later today will throw one of William Butler Yeats’s significant poetic themes – the gyre – into dramatic relief.
All week I have felt the themes of ‘gyre’ and ‘flotsam and jetsam’ lapping at my consciousness, but I could not sense why. I turned to Fritjof Capra’s esteemed work “The Tao of Physics” for clues, which focused an internet search leading me to his ecoliteracy effort. There I was introduced to photographer Chris Jordan’s staggering work. Reading his essay and watching the trailer for his film “Midway” I felt things come into sharper focus, but it still, strangely, did not feel clear enough in my mind.
Although I could see the parallels to flotsam and jetsam and gyres (one definition of which is ‘a circular ocean current’) I could not ignore the conviction that I needed to see something more.
My curiosity led me to it this morning: today’s New Moon Solar Eclipse. The human psyche has, I think, a deeply seated respect for the movement of the heavens and eclipses, as well as equinoxes and solstices, have elicited strong human responses for many thousands of years. The wide path for this celestial event tracks over the Pacific Ocean, specifically the Hawaiian Islands, Midway, and both the Great Eastern and Great Western Pacific Garbage Patches.
This celestial event tracks right over the flotsam and jetsam the tide has coalesced into islands and carried to the shores of Midway, inhabited with innocent albatrosses. The gyres of Yeats’s poetry meet the albatross of Coleridge’s.
Fritjof Capra wrote about becoming “aware of my whole environment as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance,” a dance I see depicted in the two dimensional triskeles of Irish art, most notably in the illuminated art of the Book of Kells. It is no surprise that the dance, the gyre, was so vivid a theme for the Irishman Yeats.
Now we have the chance to look to the heavens and follow the guidance of African-American poet Kevin Young: “Write not like a coming extinction, but like the extinction already. That said, do not write like a dodo, something rare and flightless — but like the passenger pigeon, a poetry once plentiful and ever-present and so therefore killed off. Do not write a poetry of rarity, or of rarification, but of never again. Do not even write this poetry but find it, come across it, and step over it. The helpless ant that in the end can lift more than ten times its weight: that is a poetry.”
Barbara Butler McCoy, 2013
[[Photo: “Cosmic Caps,” Barbara Butler McCoy, 2013; art piece constructed of a lid, bottle caps, marker, black paper]]
Bibliography: Capra, Fritjof. “The Tao of Physics.” Boston: Shambhala, 1991; Rowell, Charles Henry, ed.. “Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry.” New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2013.