Re: Happiness, in pursuit thereof

            It is 2005, just before landfall.

Here I am, a labyrinth, and I am a mess.

I am located at the corner of Waterway

and Bluff. I need your help. You will find me

to the left of the graveyard, where the trees

grow especially talkative at night,

where fog and alcohol rub off the edge.

We burn to make one another sing;

to stay the lake that it not boil, earth

not rock. We are running on Aztec time,

fifth and final cycle. Eyes switch on/off.

We would be mercurochrome to one another

bee balm or chamomile. We should be concrete,

glass, and spandex. We should be digital or,

at least, early. Be ivory-billed. Invisible

except to the most prepared observer.

We will be stardust. Ancient tailings

of nothing. Elapsed breath. No,

we must first be ice. Be nails. Be teeth.

                                           Be lightning.

C.D. Wright, “Re: Happiness, in pursuit thereof” from Rising, Falling, Hovering. Copyright © 2008 by C. D. Wright. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org

Dive in: 
  1. What does the line “Here I am, a labyrinth, and I am a mess” suggest about the state of mind of the speaker? What would it mean to see yourself as a labyrinth?
  2. Who do you think the speaker of the poem is talking to? How does the poet demonstrate a sense of urgency through language and tone?
  3. The poem riffs off a line in the United States Declaration of Independence and is full of poetic, mysterious, and emotionally charged language. What is the effect of this contrast between the legal-sounding jargon of “in pursuit thereof” and the vulnerability in the line “I need your help”?
  4. How does the desire to be “mercurochrome to one another / bee balm or chamomile” conflict with the expectation to be “concrete, / glass, and spandex”? (Note that mercurochrome is a topical antiseptic to used to treat skin abrasions and bee balm and chamomile are herbs traditionally used to soothe the nerves.) Compare “We should be digital” to “We will be stardust” — how do you interpret the tension being described here?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you manage the intensity that runs through the whole poem? What kind of shifts in tone from the first two lines and the last two lines would you emphasize?
  6. Write a poem that responds to the pressures of modern life to leave the natural world behind — what do you value most? Argue for it.

Useful Links

Watch the late C. D. Wright read this poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjZ52yBfFBo

 

Read this profile from the New York Times on C. D. Wright: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/arts/c-d-wright-poet-of-ozarks-and-beyond-dies-at-67.html

 

Read this profile from the New Yorker on C. D. Wright: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/postscript-c-d-wright-1949-2016

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