ALL THIS USELESS BEAUTY: DOES BEAUTY MATTER, WHY AND HOW COULD IT MATTER GIVEN TODAY’S NEWS, IS IT A LUXURY WE NO LONGER CAN AFFORD? QUESTIONS WE HAVE TO ASK, THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM WHEN WE TALK ABOUT POETRY.

And talk about poetry we will, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Ada Limon, Ross Gay, and Emily Dickinson. She started it, really: she said “Nobody knows this little rose.” Now we know Nobody: Odysseus’ cunning way to describe himself when he escapes the Cyclops, Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, and Emily Dickinson’s anthem poem, I’m Nobody, a startling messing with our minds, since you can’t say you’re nobody, to say, I am, is to be somebody, and then to say you’re nobody is to completely undercut that in existential shenanigans. You can’t say you are not. Except, you can.

That’s what language does. That’s what metaphor does. It lets you say this is that, when of course it’s not. But, then, it is: just think about e=mc2. When Emily Dickinson says, I’m Nobody—who are you? Are You Nobody too? Everyone understands; people relate. We ALL think we’re Nobody, secretly: unknown, for our real selves, invisible, unseen, uncounted, unaccounted for. Nobody knows how we really matter. So she is speaking truth to us. It turns out that she sees the world empathetically, not only bringing us in to her world of nobodies (there’s a pair of us?), but extending our vision of not knowing to the world at large. “Nobody knows this little rose,” she says, and what we have to figure out together is what’s at stake in our knowing the little rose. And at the end of the day, what does it matter that we know the rose, and that we see beauty? Are we irresponsible, given the world’s tragedies? We’ll look at Dickinson’s poems about beauty, and Dickinson’s poems about the tragedies going on all around her and within her, and think about the role of beauty in our lives, the truth of poetry in our lives.

© Barbara Mossberg 2017

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