We walk a fine line, don't we, between being too self-conscious and too self-blind? In adolescence, of course, the line can be crystal clear. Remember the poor kid who couldn't walk down the hall without tucking his head between his shoulders for fear of being noticed? And then there were the golden ones, the fellows who seemed to glide through life without a care in the world. Everything came easy for them. When they stood at the plate, they didn't worry about the fact the game depended on them and there were pretty girls in the stands; they just hit the ball. And it went over the fence.
Even as adults, we tell each other not to be self-conscious, to just get on with it, do what has to be done. And of course this is seen as a particularly American virtue. Hamlet was a Dane. Ours is the go-to country, the get-it-done country. Daniel Boone didn't worry about the cant of his coonskin cap as he led those pioneers through the Cumberland Gap, John Paul Jones didn't stop to contemplate his navel when the Bonhomme Charles loomed into view, John Wayne spilled his guts at the Alamo, never on some therapist's couch.
But a fellow has to be careful, doesn't he, not to focus so exclusively on what has to be done next that he slips through life without ever noticing he's been alive? I'm not a Hindu. I really do believe we get only the one shot at life. So doesn't it behoove us to now and then check in on ourselves, consider what we think of life, what we have learned and what we as yet remain unsure of, our fears and anxieties, the things and people we love, the things and people we do not?
It is this uncertain no-man's land of the interior life that the confessional poets so ably advance upon and claim. Here they stand tall. And while it is true that this makes them, in a sense, self-involved, they also do. They write poetry. And their struggles, their self-examinations, illuminate our own. Speaking of the lonely vigil that produces such poetry, Philip Larkin wrote, “Once more ...
Supports me on its giant palm;
And like a sea-anemone
Or simple snail, there cautiously
Unfolds, emerges, what I am.
As part of the library's annual celebration of National Poetry Month, on Monday, April 6, at 6 p.m. in the Easton library, and again on Thursday, April 9, at 3 p.m. in the St. Michaels branch, I will host a discussion of “confessional” poetry. You can pick up a set of the poems we'll talk about at either of our Talbot libraries, or you can just call me at 410-822-1626 and I'll e-mail them to you. Who knows what secrets the poets will reveal, whose figure will unfold from solitude's giant palm? I invite you to a night of self-revelation—the poets' and, quite possibly, our own.