Sunday, January 9, 2011

"The Porous Scrim between Life and Death": Elizabeth Alexander & Krista Tippett

This morning, as on many Sunday mornings, I listened to Krista Tippett's "Being" - today's show, "Words that Shimmer" which featured a discussion with Elizabeth Alexander on "what poetry works in us and in our children and why it may become more relavent in hard and complicated times."  I could not wait to sit down, think about what I had heard, and share it with you.  The entire show is worth listening to, but I'd like to hightlight the moments or words that caused the heart of this palliative care clinician to whorl and dance.   

38:07 minutes into the show, Ms Alexander began to speak about the juxtaposition as a caregiver to her two babies and to her "very beloved mother-in-law" who was dying.  She said,

"I came to learn what is means as a poet to be the person who can sit with those profound, profound, essential human experiences, and to let them happen, and to not fight them, and learn from them.   
I never would have thought before that it was a privilege for someone to let you be intimate with them as they move towards dying.   
But it was.  And I think I understood that because I was having and raising these little babies." 
Two poems then were shared - almost in tandem, bringing to light this theme: 
"[...] birth is like jazz,
from silence and blood, silence
then everything,  
and then Autumn Passage
"On suffering, which is real.
On the mouth that never closes,
the air that dries the mouth.
On the miraculous dying body, 
its greens and purples. [...]" 

The "scrim between life and death" - Ms. Alexander's words, and the continuum of legacy from mother to child to grandchild threads throughout the conversation.  She leaves us with One week later in the strange - an incredible poem about ... well, what can happen after death.   
In the expanding collection of poetry and humanities around this topic of life and death, meaning and suffering, Elizabeth Alexander's new book of poetry, Crave Radiance, is now on my "must own" list.  

Crave Radiance:
New and Selected Poems 1990-2010
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Date: 2010
Language: English

Available at:

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