Eyes Open, Uncovered to the Bone – Part One – A Poem by Linda Gregg

Eyes Wide OpenConfession. I am afraid to go on-line these days for fear of falling down the rabbit hole of April – Poetry Month. And the blogs pouring forth their bounty of poems. Overwhelming. Yet, here I am adding to the cataract of poetry. My problem is that I have my own closer-to-home welter of words. Piles of poetry books scattered across floors and desks. Enough books and poems for ten thousand Poetry Months!

 Today, in a two part post, I want to feature two poems from two books. In Part One, a poem by American poet Linda Gregg, whom I featured in my last blog. A line in a poem of hers has stayed with me for months  – Eyes open – uncovered to the bone. A marvellous line and reminder of what a poet’s job is but the line became especially activated in my imagination from a quote a friend sent me. Then, in a strange way, that line became even more insistent in my mind as I was reading a poem by American poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly whose poem Blessed Is the Field is featured in Part Two and is such an exquisite example of a seeing uncovered to the bone.

The 1987 winner of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, Kelly may not be a household name, especially to Canadian readers, but American poet Steven Dobyns in 2004 called her one of the very best poets now writing in the United States. In fact, there is no one who is any better.

 I was unfamiliar with Kelly’s poetry when the Russian American poet, and inspiring poetry workshop leader, Ilya Kaminsky, recommended her book Song at a workshop last year and in particular its title poem. Kaminsky considers her a “Southern” poet and in that context says: There is not a single living or dead “Southern” poet in the US who can live up to great “Southern” fiction writers – Faulkner, O’Conner etc. And yet, there is something in Kelly’s narrative and syntax that makes me think that she is trying to do just that, which is a huge ambition, and to my mind just aiming there is already an achievement.

I am grateful to Kaminsky for the Kelly referral. There is a dark foreboding to many of her poems but her cadence, syntax and use of repetition has a hypnotic quality about it which make the poems irresistible. She describes a known world but somehow manages to give it an otherworldly atmosphere that makes me think I am in a ghost story. Some old power, something numinous and mysterious is afoot in her poems and she sees it. It gives them a spiritual and mystical quality which is accentuated when she adds language with biblical echoes and over tones! I give her this – she sure knows how to make the hair rise on the back of my neck!

Now, back to Gregg who inspired this two part post! Earlier this year I read and re-read Linda Gregg’s 1991 book Sacraments of Desire. Poem after poem resonated with me. Her spare unadorned language. Her crisp images. But one image, that line  Eyes open, uncovered to the bone has never left me. It comes from this poem:

Each Thing Measured by the Same Sun

Nothing to tell. Nothing to desire.
A silence that is not unhappy.
Who will guess I am not
backing away? I am pleased
every morning because the stones
are cold, then warm in the sun.
Sometimes wet. One, two, three days
in a row. Easy to say yes and no.
Realizing this power delicately.
Remembering the cow dying on the ground,
smelling dirt, seeing a mountain
in the distance one foot away.
Making a world in the mind.
The spirit still connected to the body.
Eyes open, uncovered to the bone.

Linda Gregg from Sacraments of Desire, GrayWolf Press, 1991

Eyes open, uncovered to the bone. How to see that way. The way a poet does. Easier said than done. This line and this poem came back to me thanks to Bill in Miami ( a cherished new friend whom I met through the annual poetry retreat I lead in Surfside, Texas). Bill quoted this from Michael Sowder, past winner of the T.S. Eliot poetry award: …poetry is a path to spirituality, to being awake to the magic of the present moment.” And what is being more awake to the present moment then seeing with eyes open, uncovered to the bone.

 William Blake famously said prayer is unmixed attention. And I would add so is poetry! It’s why I see such a connection between the two. It is why also so many poets see poetry as a spiritual practice. But the practice depends on staying awake, on paying attention to the extraordinary ordinary! And an astonishing book, On Looking – Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, by noted non-fiction writer Alexandra Horowitz published in 2013, illustrates how hard and wonderful that is to do. ( I owe a huge thanks to Maria Popova, the genius behind the website Brainpickings Weekly, for putting me on to Horowitz’s book.)

Horowitz, after she realized how much she misses going on around her all the time, decided to take walks in her Manhattan neighbourhood with experts in many areas of knowledge whose eyes she could look through to see that world in a new way. Here’s how she starts her book: You missed that. Right now, you are missing the vast majority of what is happening around you. You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you. I say amen to that!

In an echo of the Sowber quote above Horowitz explains why she wrote her book: In this book, I aimed to knock myself awake. I took that walk “ around the block” an ordinary activity engaged in by everyone nearly every day – dozens of times with people who have distinctive, individual, expert ways of seeing all the unattended, perceived ordinary elements I was missing.

What was she missing? She says: pretty much everything. After taking the walks described in this book, I would find myself at once alarmed, delighted and humbled at the limitations of my ordinary looking. My consolation is that this deficiency of mine is quite human. We see, but do not see: we use our eyes, but our gaze is glancing, frivolously considering its object. We see the signs but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders.

 This brings me back to Gregg again, her line: eyes open, uncovered to the bone. No blinders! Gregg provides a much expansive take on this thought in her essay, The Art of Finding, but her line reminds me to stay awake and as my father used to say – keep my eyes peeled! I will add, keep the eyes of my heart peeled, too.  ( To finish reading this post please go to Part Two.)

2 Comments

  1. Barbara Black
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this posting, Richard. That’s exactly what I need to do right now: knock myself awake. I hope to encounter some poems in the process. Keep on a’ blogging…

  2. Richard
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Dear Barbara: So glad to hear from you! And thank you I will keep on blogging! It makes it even more enjoyable when I get comments! Thank you!

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*