Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Friday - How Are We Connected?

I had the distinct pleasure of hearing John Green, author of Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines, last night at the University of Richmond. The title of his talk was "How Are We Connected?" John was much more eloquent than I will be in summarizing his thoughts, but I wanted to share his ideas, today particularly, since he used poetry to help make his points.

John began by quoting a brief passage from Walt Whitman's A Song of Myself.
I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
He suggested that good books acknowledge the reality of human feelings, and that books can help us to connect in four ways. They are:
  1. Self to Other - by giving us access to voices that cannot easily be heard
  2. Self to Collective - by helping us see that we are part of the human experience
  3. Readers to Writers - by allowing us to engage in quiet conversation with an author through the act of reading
  4. Living to Dead - because text can help us endure and prevail
In talking about the second point, John told us about spending a summer in Alaska and how incredibly isolating it was. For a long time he believed no one understood how he felt, at least not until he read this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Night Falls Fast
Night falls fast.
Today is in the past.

Blown from the dark hill hither to my door
Three flakes, then four
Arrive, then many more.
In talking about the last point, John quoted William Faulkner's Nobel Prize Speech, saying that reading this each day is what kept him going while writing Alaska.
I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
It was an inspired talk. John talked about wanting to write honest fiction. What I came away with was the same notion I had while reading both of his books. John Green not only writes honest fiction, but smart fiction. His knowledge of books and authors also reminded me how important it is for writers to be readers.
Poetry Friday is being hosted today by AmoXcalli. Please stop by and check out all the great entries, but before you go, do be sure to read the results of this week's poetry stretch. Happy Poetry Friday, all!


  1. I heart John Green. But I'm sure you know that already. He was reading a lot of Whitman while writing Paper Towns (his latest oeuvre), or so it seemed from B2.0

    Thanks for sharing poetry in such an interesting way today, and for such a thoughtful post.

  2. Um. I remember reading that same Walt Whitman quote when I was about 14, and being stunned.

    Thanks for reminding me of it again!

  3. John Green is shockingly eloquent. You just want to listen to him for hours. Smart people writing smart books. Such a gift!

  4. great post,Tricia. Thanks for summarizing so eloquently!

  5. You lucky dog. I met John Green - or rather, ambushed him at ALA - but I would love to hear him speak. (Speak as in a presentation. I don't want to suggest that he failed to utter a word in my awe-inspiring presence.)

  6. Beautiful, stimulating post. You really pulled it all together here!

  7. Fantastic post! I love Walt Whitman and would dearly love to her John Green speak.

    Thank you.

  8. I'd not heard that Millay poem before. I've missed out. Thank you so much for sharing.