Poems from four poets in love with the world, the Poets Laureate of Santa Clara County: Nils Peterson (Santa Clara County, 2009-2011),Sally Ashton (Santa Clara County, 2011-2013), David Perez (Santa Clara County, 2014-2016), and Arlene Biala (Santa Clara County, 2016-2018).
A Tenderness Toward Existence
Galway Kinnell said all good writing has a certain quality in common, “a tenderness toward existence.” Coleman Barks adds, “[Poets] will never finish noticing what is going on.”
Isn’t the great malady of our age the communal loss of this feeling of “tenderness towards existence?” We’ve lost tenderness because we’ve forgotten how to see. We do not see because we do not have to. Well, the farmer on his own land must see, and the fire watcher in the forest, and the entomologist, and on and on . . . and the poet.
Wendell Berry said “people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.” Here is a quotation from the British naturalist, Robert Macfarlane that shows how difficult this has become. Even the dictionary makers are against us:
Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood [in the Oxford Junior Dictionary]. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.
What the Oxford University Press has done is replace words from the world of nature with words from the technological construct we are building. Is it not the job of the poet to hold on to, bring back, invent again the language of seeing? Why? So we can fall in love with the world, or fall in love with the world again, or remember how it was to be in love with it.