constellations #55: candor

Hi again.

In my senior year of high school, I won an award from the English department. During the award ceremony, my English teacher — a quiet, eccentric, brilliant woman — gave a short speech, during which she read a quotation from Virginia Woolf:

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.”

In her short speech, my teacher mentioned that the person being given the award had made her dislike of Mrs. Dalloway known in class (…can you imagine?! I’m so ashamed) but she thought the awardee would appreciate the sentiment anyway. Obviously I did. The feeling stuck with me: how much that quote resonated, how immediately true it felt. (It stuck with me more than the feeling of winning the award, I guess, because I can’t remember now what I was even being awarded for.) I carried that feeling with me into college, unsure if I would ever call myself a writer but relatively certain that the point of the whole endeavor was to learn how to tell the truth about yourself and about other people. I still believe that, I think.

Anyway, I was thinking about that quote because I recently stumbled upon this chunk of a poem by Anne Carson called “Candor” (this section is called “Could 1”) and it reminded me of it:

If you are not the free person you want to be you must find a place to tell the truth about that. To tell how things go for you. Candor is like a skein being produced inside the belly day after day, it has to get itself woven out somewhere. You could whisper down a well. You could write a letter and keep it in a drawer. You could inscribe a curse on a ribbon of lead and bury it in the ground to lie unread for thousands of years. The point is not to find a reader, the point is the telling itself. Consider a person standing alone in a room. The house is silent. She is looking down at a piece of paper. Nothing else exists. All her veins go down into this paper. She takes her pen and writes on it some marks no one else will ever see, she bestows on it a kind of surplus, she tops it off with a gesture as private and accurate as her own name.

This week I noticed myself getting somewhat reacquainted with the poetry of everyday life. (“I see simple men making casts,” my friend said with a sigh in a conversation about fishing, and I kept turning the words over in my head, laughing at how grandiose and fun the sentence felt, what a nice rhythm it had.)

Maybe I was just on the lookout for it because I had just read Rachel Syme describing the particular syntax of the show I Think You Should Leave. “Robinson’s comedy gets stuck in your head like pop hooks,” she says, “because he makes a strange kind of music with language, bending it with his own idiosyncratic phrasing and goofy alliteration.” One of the phrases she uses as an example — “You sure about that’s not why?” — has been stuck in my head, in Robinson’s voice, ever since reading the article. You sure about that’s not why?!

Or maybe it’s because I saw this car with a license plate that says POETRY going east on Route 6 this weekend.

Anyway, I hope some poetry appears in front of your eyes (and ears) this week.