996: A Portable Paradise
996: A Portable Paradise
I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.
Walking down Commercial Street in Provincetown, I ran into a poet friend. She was licking an ice cream cone; which was a delight. Who doesn’t love running into a friend in a resort town with its tourists and cottages awash in light? I was quite young, just starting out, at last comfortable with even calling myself a poet. And here was someone whose poetry was instructive. Yet more her presence bespoke decorum and order. I admired her firm take on things, her presumed authority. She seemed to affect a seriousness about poetry, one that I wished for myself.
Near MacMillan’s Pier, we exchanged some words about a mutual friend, then she asked:
“Have you read his latest book?”
“I hadn’t.” I said, “What do you make of it?”
After a moment of pondering, she proclaimed, “I’m less interested in poems of paradise, yet infinitely intrigued by poems that chart our journey out of hell.” She was speaking metaphorically, of course. By this time, the ice cream was dripping down her hand.
Her fascinating dichotomy conveyed a tension about poetry written today. If a poet does not address some personal strife, achieve social relevance, or convey political urgency, then somehow their poems fail to capture our attention. Some believe a hierarchy of subject matter exists in art, and that success as a poet — wide readership, prizes, and recognition — is contingent upon how close one hews to the drama of existence, rather than its serenity.
Though young and thus impressionable, I did not readily agree. Back then, and still now, I welcome quiet, austere, and introspective poems. Love poems, praise poems, poems about nature, all push me closer to being alive in a register of experience that may seem uncomplicated on the surface, but are immensely dramatic below.
Plus, are we not allowing ourselves the radiance born from a life of happiness and contentment? As so much poetry reminds us, suffering is at the core of being human. Yes, we fumble along. We live a melancholic existence. Some of us protest, confess, and bring the news in our works.
Yet, today’s poem wisely announces that we should always keep that place which feels like heaven within sight. We should maintain an inner utopia, even if hidden from others. It, too, is worthy of mapping in literature.
A Portable Paradise
by Roger Robinson
And if I speak of Paradise, then I’m speaking of my grandmother who told me to carry it always on my person, concealed, so no one else would know but me. That way they can’t steal it, she’d say. And if life puts you under pressure, trace its ridges in your pocket, smell its piney scent on your handkerchief, hum its anthem under your breath. And if your stresses are sustained and daily, get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel, hostel or hovel – find a lamp and empty your paradise onto a desk: your white sands, green hills and fresh fish. Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.
“A Portable Paradise” by Roger Robinson from A PORTABLE PARADISE © 2019, Roger Robinson. Used by permission of Peepal Tree Press.