As we enter a new campaign season sure to be rife with heated arguments and incessant finger pointing, one can't help but be reminded of all the issues that keep America at odds with itself. Our country has been at war for nearly a decade, yet Americans are still in the dark about what their government is trying to accomplish abroad (we're fighting what...terror? How do we beat an abstraction?). Elected officials can't see past their opponents (or their own genitals) to help those depending on an anemic economy. And people still refuse to support their President because they believe he is being "un-American" and practicing Islam (he isn't...but why would that matter, anyway?).
The list could go on, and it is in times of division like this that we often lose sight of one another. We favor paths of intolerance that leave us fragmented and often forget that the best way to peace of mind is not getting our own way, but rather through cooperation with opposition that unites us in a common understanding.
Enter Charles Bane, Jr., whose first published collection of poems presents a distinctly Romantic tone and invokes the sentiments of 18th century poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. "I think poet and reader are one organic being," Bane explains in the video above. "My poems are my readers." Wordsworth and Coleridge would agree.
Romanticism largely hinges on the notion that humanity in its entirety is a single, cohesive entity, and when the individual is able to synchronize with this greater collective consciousness they actually connect with the divine spirit of the universe (for the Romantics, the gateways for this commune were largely found in nature). In essence, then, the idea is that humanity is actually God, and we are able to find peace in the divinity we find in one another. Thus, Bane's insistence that his poems are his readers echoes the Romantic paradigms of fellowship and synchronicity.
If this connection were not evident enough after hearing his explanation, Bane also opens The Chapbook with "The Two," a poem about Moses' commune with God:
I think when God
walked shy to Moses,
stars clustered in his hands,
he led our rabbi down
to the orchards of the heart.
The two walked near the other
and traded dreams like brothers
before sleep. They paused
afield and watched the sun,
lifted by themselves in unison,
race overhead. And Moses knew
not to disappoint this man
with faltering steps or speech.
God wept uncomprehending
of his artistry and Moses scratched
some lines in stone to honor
a beloved friend.
Bane humanizes God in this poem, characterizing him as Moses' brother rather than his father, a peer instead of a superior. He also describes them watching the sun "in unison," setting up the sort of synchronicity that Wordsworth describes in "Tintern Abbey" ("My dear, dear sister!...Nor wilt thou then forget, / That after many wanderings, many years / Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs, / And this green pastoral landscape, were to me / More dear, both for themselves, and for thy sake."). That is, he describes a connection between souls established by an admiration of nature. This equality that Bane establishes is key, and his humanization of God points strongly to the Romantic ideas of the 18th century. God is not our Father--we are God.
This insistence for equality and understanding is also manifested in Bane's writing--it is simple, prosaic, and does not sacrifice accessibility in an attempt to gild stanzas with highbrow language. His poems are his readers because his readers are actually able to read them in the first place, which again plays into this idea of connecting with one's fellow man as a means for experiencing divine grace. Indeed, in a genre that has a tendency to praise the esoteric and obscure, Bane's work is gracefully accessible without being gimmicky or immature.
I won't spoil the rest of his chapbook for you, or bog you down with any more explicating, but hopefully you've stuck with my brief examination long enough to see that Bane's work does not only stand on the shoulders of giants, it shrinks them, makes them less daunting and more manageable, and translates their seemingly forgotten ideology into a modern tongue. He accomplishes an extraordinary task in balancing the past with the present, all the while communicating a sense of unison and heartfelt understanding between poet and reader. In a time where we have all seemed to lose sight of one another in pursuit of personal gain, this connection--one that is genuine, unselfish, and even divine--almost seems impossible, something to be admired but never experienced.
Bane seems to believe otherwise, and his work is a testament to the power and beauty of such a connection. More importantly, it is also proof that such a connection exists, suggesting that perhaps we are not fated to be stuck in this mire of fragmentation and that sharing happiness with our neighbor is not only divine, but also possible.
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