When I saw the December 2004 Sun waiting crisply for me beneath the mail slot, I greedily opened to the Readers Write section and soon found myself crying as I read what Beryl Singleton Bissell wrote about “Letters.”
I have faithfully read The Sun for years (stoically bearing with you at times, it must be said), and I continue to be amazed by the magazine’s capacity to bring me to tears. As a white man, and a logger to boot, I relish this emotional release in all its rare and exquisite beauty.
What is it that moves me so deeply? I think the honesty of the writing, and the power of reading an intimate truth plainly articulated.
I had just started receiving The Sun and had not yet made up my mind how I felt about it when your December 2004 cover caught my eye. I decided right then: The Sun has my vote.
I am lucky enough to have spent two and a half years in Nepal. While there, I was exposed to many sights and sensations that I had not experienced before and have not encountered since: the walls shaking at 5 A.M. as the women of the house ground the day’s grain on a quern; the receding sound of Himalayan rivers as I ascended a cliff; the sight of a Nepali woman’s hands extracting flavor and calories from whole spices and grains by pushing them against a river stone. Kevin Bubriski’s photograph brought back many memories of women’s hands, warm hours, and delicious meals.
The conventional media flood us with the same images over and over: slim blondes, sleek cars. Bubriski has brought us a snapshot of one of life’s ignored pockets of beauty.
As a product of Western psychotherapy I am challenged by some of Gregg Krech’s views [“Many Thanks,” interview by Angela Winter, December 2004]. I appreciate his emphasis on gratitude and selflessness, but I have experienced an increase in love and compassion for my fellow human beings after concentrating on what’s true for myself.
In my youth I tried as best I could to live a life of selflessness, but in midlife my relationships with those I was supposed to love began to unravel. I solicited the aid of a talented therapist, who helped me to look below the surface, and I learned that my selfless desires (now there’s a contradiction in terms) had been undermined by profound anger, shame, and a sense of unworthiness that I hadn’t even known I had. The acceptance of these “bad” aspects of myself led to my becoming a more genuine and generous person, though there is always work left to do.
I don’t purport to know much about selfishness or selflessness anymore, but I have learned more about me, and that’s the best tool I have to help me experience and know the truth.
I appreciate the sincerity of David Romtvedt’s essay “The Penis that Killed Jeffrey City” [December 2004]. His longing to reach out to others and help them to appreciate poetry seems genuine. I understand his disappointment when he finds that the rural Western population prefers traditional cowboy poems to the modern, nonmetrical poetry that he enjoys. I think he’s mistaken, however, when he writes that American poets after the First World War “got rid of rhyme in part to throw off elitism, to bring art and daily life together.” Nor is it true that “rhymed poetry reflected genteel Victorian artifice and class barriers.”
Romtvedt seems to focus on the absence of rhyme as the major difference between modern verse and traditional poetry. In fact, it is the failure to follow a regular meter that makes a modern poem not a “real poem.”
One doesn’t need a college education, or even the ability to read, in order to appreciate metrical poetry. We know it when we hear it. To tell if a poem has meter, read it out loud. Can you tap your foot to it? Does it write itself into your memory? Does your body, and not just your mind, respond to its cadences?
Poetry emerged from an ancient oral tradition. Meter, together with alliteration, assonance, and end rhymes, made poems easy to memorize. The ordinary people Romtvedt is trying to reach have an innate appreciation of this type of poetry.
Modernists seem to think that aesthetics is culturally determined. That’s why they abandoned “elitist” forms preferred by the bourgeoisie. But, in fact, we are now learning that some aspects of aesthetics are innate and hold true despite cultural differences. In recent experiments, subjects from different cultures and ethnicities chose the same pictures from a pile of photographs when asked to identify “beautiful” faces. Apparently, there is a deep appreciation of certain types of symmetry in all of us.
Anybody can recognize a metrical poem. Not everybody can write one, however. Is that the elitism that modernists rebel against?
David Romtvedt responds:
Rhyme and meter are used in various ways in different languages and cultures. Some languages are rhyme rich and tend to have a literature that includes lots of rhyme. Rhyme is “easier” and appears more “natural” in such languages. But it is misleading to suggest that either rhyme or meter is a universal measure for what we define as poetry. Over the years I’ve found that many of us in the rural West can love both rhymed and unrhymed poetry. At the same time, there remains a divide between these two poetry worlds, and I’m saddened that on both sides of the divide there are accusations that what the other side cares about is not poetry.
In her essay “Political Paralysis” [November 2004] Danusha Veronica Goska writes, “When we study the biographies of our heroes, we learn that they spent years in preparation, doing tiny, decent things before one historic moment propelled them to center stage and used them to tilt empires.”
It was just this year, when I turned forty-four, that I really started contributing to change. I so desperately wanted George W. Bush out of office that I knew I could no longer just wish for it. For the first time I volunteered for a political campaign, and I was proud to assist in John Kerry’s win in Wisconsin. I wrote impassioned letters to friends who were Bush supporters and changed the mind of one, in Florida. Now I’m writing letters to Bush to let him know why I was one of the 55 million who didn’t vote for him.
Joan Baez says in your November Sunbeams: “Action is the antidote to despair.”
“Coming Clean” [November 2004] was by far the most interesting Readers Write topic you’ve chosen in a long time. I was struck by the level of remorse some contributors felt, but also by their apparent inability to make amends. Tom Carter still feels bad about not paying for repairs to his Volkswagen. Why doesn’t he donate four hundred dollars to a worthy cause in the mechanic’s name? Why doesn’t the fifty-five-year-old man who ridiculed a handicapped boy on the school bus one morning mentor a handicapped child in his community? The beautiful thing about life is that redemption is always possible.
While I was waiting at my chiropractor’s office, I picked up your October 2004 issue. I subscribe to the New Yorker, but never do I read its fiction or poetry. Reading The Sun, however, I found myself captivated by Manuel Martinez’s short story “What the Dead Know,” and stunned by how much I enjoyed Eric Anderson’s poem “The Problem with Bullets.” (And I am a registered gun owner.)
Did I forget to mention the joy of not having to turn past any ads?
Though I enjoyed the October 2004 Readers Write on “Weddings,” I was also disappointed. This country had just seen, for the first time in its history, legal gay and lesbian marriages. Why was this historic civil-rights event so underrepresented? You published only one piece about it, written by a heterosexual onlooker. Though it was a good piece, I wondered: where were the voices of your gay and lesbian readers?
I first subscribed to The Sun at the tail end of a seven-year stint on an inpatient psychiatric unit. While those I shared the magazine with found it “depressing,” it reminded me of the sweet, sublime bitterness of life.
I had too many magazines and books coming in, however, and the issues piled up. As I ended a marriage and prepared to move to France to try a new way of life, I attempted to read the pile of Suns, but filling out visa paperwork and studying French and just plain living got in the way.
Finally, I decided to include the unread issues in my belongings destined for France. They were small, I reasoned, and it might be nice to have some English reading material.
Nice is an understatement. Each issue has been a shining pearl of wisdom.
In the note accompanying Jean Hay Bright’s book excerpt “The Good Life Revisited” [January 2005] we gave the wrong Web address for the book’s publisher. The correct address is www.brightberrypress.com.