what if?

In Wendel Berry’s Leavings (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010), his poem “IV” appears in the section called “2008.”  It sparked a series of associated thoughts.  First, his poem.

A man is walking in a field

and everywhere at his feet

in the shortgrass of April

the small purple violets

are in bloom.  As the man walks

the ground drops away,

the sunlight of day becomes

a sort of darkness in which

the lights of the flowers rise

up around him like

fireflies or stars in a sort

of sky through which he walks.

This poem reminds me of  Cree stories from the northern parts of the Americas.  I first learned about these stories from Howard Norman’s collection, Wishing Bone Cycle: Narrative Poems of the Swampy Cree.  Like those wishing bone poems, Berry’s piece turns an observation on its head by making the purple violets into sparkling stars.  By grabbing the flower and planting its negative, he lets us walk with the man in the sky.  He lifts us to new terrain full of previously unimagined possibilities.  Besides being fun, these transformations exercise the imagination–of creator and audience alike.

In days of personal or public depression, when individuals or groups can feel overwhelmed, the value of imagination grows.  What if?  Let’s just imagine. Although it sounds simple, some people lack the imaginative muscle.  For one reason or another, it has atrophied, which makes it hard for them to imagine circumstances as other than they are.  By itself, imagination does not solve all problems.  Can it help touch on a possibility?  No doubt.  Can it turn an earth-bound flower into a star of light?  Sometimes.

Helping students imagine the created world of a poem or a fictional character exercises this important muscle.  In a world that people say is changing at an ever-increasing rate, the ones with strong imagination can be more prepared for change, and more able to help the rest of us navigate it with compassion.


Filed under art, challenge, creative solutions

2 responses to “what if?

  1. Stephen G. Kennedy

    It’s the Infant Laughing

    It’s the infant laughing, I think, the door’s closed
    And I can’t see, but that small ineffable waterfall

    Is hard to mistake. Buildings become dust and iron filings,
    Window-glass returns to sand, but it’s the infant

    Laughing that rounds the pebbles in the river, bends
    The steel bridge that carries us from nowhere to here again.

    The tree that gives way in the wind survives the storm,
    Said the Taoist ancient, the same who said he who knows

    Does not speak. Thus it’s the infant laughing. I sit
    Listening at the door, silent, wishing I knew his name.

    Stephen G. Kennedy

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