by Sydney Lea
“‘Some Postures to the Rock,’ a poem in AGNI’s issue 83, suggests several possible perspectives on one presumably inanimate object, ones that in fact do animate that object. But this poem has perhaps as unlikely a history as any I’ve composed. It re-began, as it were (I’ll explain directly), as I was cleaning out the Augean stables of my home office. I came across the part called “Rock, Dog,” which must have been written about forty years ago, before I had published a book of any kind.
I lived in a small New Hampshire town back then, and on a walk one day, I watched one of my dogs as she stalked a glacial erratic boulder in the woods. I found it—what?—diverting that the animal mistook that great heap for a living creature. But I quickly recalled how, as a child, I used to fancy that a certain rock in my grandfather’s woods resembled a whale. Wasn’t that equally eccentric? I don’t remember pondering such an issue in those days. So I put together a draft of “Rock, Boy,” a portrait of a kid who doesn’t even know he’s exercising imaginative powers, much less that over time they may support him.
I must simply have forgotten about what I’d drafted until, as I say, I came upon those two entries while I house-cleaned. At almost the same time, an old friend from childhood, a conspirator then in dissatisfaction, especially with suburban life, got in touch with me out of the blue. We had been out of touch for six decades. She had long since gone an opposite way from mine in her flight. A dancer, she had done very well in Los Angeles, and, when she got past prime age for her art, became a top choreographer for United Artists. But in her forties, she was suddenly stricken with a rare disease that paralyzed her from the waist down.
By dint of will, my childhood chum sufficiently rehabilitated herself that, at age 60, she performed a public, one-woman dance concert, and she continues to work in her field. Having once been so fond of her, and having been deeply moved by her narrative, I wanted to get her into a poem, wanted to celebrate how courageously and deftly she had made her escape into the world of art and away from the admonishments of her parents, who were a whole lot stuffier than my own. Indeed, she had done so twice, under very taxing conditions.
Poetry, like everything in that world of art I refer to, is mysterious business. I can’t tell exactly why it occurred to me that her tale might fit into the poem under discussion, that hers might be yet another perspective on what otherwise might simply be regarded as—forgive me—rock-solid reality. But because hers was ultimately a happy history, and because I wanted (for a change) to write a poem that ended on the upswing, it seemed to me that her section ought to be the last.
Though now they occupy the middle of “Some Postures…,” the madman and the liar were in fact the last portions to be drafted. Each, I suppose, suggests some take on myself, a man who, at one time or another, like many people, all of them scarcely artists of any kind, has felt a little crazy, and one who has been tempted, sometimes to the point of non-resistance, to make up a self-glorifying fable or two.
In short, the poem responds to what T.S. Eliot described as the duty of the poet: “to imagine new wholes.” I am making no claims for its quality, though I have high regard for AGNI’s editors, and am always reassured by their positive judgments; in any case, “Some Postures to the Rock” testifies to the energy that has kept me making poetry into my seventies. I am surprised and thrilled by how one surmise can lead to another, and that to another, then to another, and others. In the process, I find myself connecting experiences that I’d never have known had anything to do with one another. Other poets may know the joy that brings, even if non-poets may have no way of relating to it.
Sydney Lea has recently completed four years as Vermont Poet Laureate. His most recent publications are his fourth collection of personal essays, What’s the Story? Reflections on a Life Grown Long, and his twelfth volume of poems, No Doubt the Nameless. Find out what he’s published in AGNI here.