Inconveniences Rightly ConsideredLancelot Schaubert
poems from 2005 - 2017
ft. “Holy Saturday” by T. A. Giltner
copyright © 2017
cover image “adventure awaits!” by Zach Disner
used in compliance with his creative commons
attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Who liked some
Who liked some more
Who unfortunately liked them better than any other thing I've done
And for the Unclave
Who said as much, but asked for them in writng
In Defense of Poetry
Sometimes the best things happen by a strange-but-steady sequence of happy accidents: inconveniences, rightly considered. This one is about a decade in the making, give or take a few years. But it's a story that needs the telling because if it were up to me and my own efforts and preferences, this book never would have existed:
At the Writer Unboxed Unclave writers' retreat of 2015 (I kind of wish I had more words to put in the title -- Wordstravaganza? Manuscrivening? Reperstory? Storiginating rest machine?)... anyways at this retreat thing Momma L.J. Cohen, Momma Barbara Morrison, and Momma Gretchen Riddle all three told me I should assemble a book of my poems and lyrics. Three music producers in Brooklyn said the same thing shortly afterwards. People like Jessie Weis and Karl Mitchell have said for years that they prefer my poetry and songs to my other work, a weird kind of unintended-yet-still-backhanded compliment that made me say, "Thanks, but that stinks since I've invested more time into oral storytelling, fiction, screenwriting, and nonfiction." I thought it was unfair: the thing I spent the least time on was the favorite of some of my closest readers.
As it turns out, that's not entirely true -- I have spent a large amount of time practicing poetry over the last ten years or so. And Jessie and Karl were right, in one sense, to prefer it.
I started out writing poems to my future wife in letters in highschool, transitioned to journals, and then blogging as a college freshman prompted by Michelle Johnson of Poefusion (wherever in the world she is these days--the internet was a weird place even early on kind of like how Neverland may age but never lose its fairies and pirates). Because of those early habits, when I get stuck between projects or struck by some unexpected beauty like a random set of fountains in the courtyard between two skyscrapers, I'll pull out my journal and write a few lines of a verse. Sometimes it's just to take down an image and its corresponding metaphor. For instance, a bit of fog left behind a car beneath a streetlight at midnight and no sign of any vehicle for miles around:
Yes, maybe poetry.
Sometimes this combined with assignments for Rev. Doug Welch's or Dr. Tom Lawson's classes would yield an inordinate amount of time on a villanelle or a sonnet. Sometimes a client would ask for a spoken word piece (ick!) or better yet, an ode or sonnet for someone close to them. Sometimes a superior songwriter would ask for help on their lyrics or a children's picture book author who knew nothing about meter would give me a call and I would delight in utterly destroying their manuscript. Whatever you think of the lasting impact of Dr. Suess, you must admit that anapestic tetrameter is a BEAR to write. A rabid one.
Most of the time it was me sharing things with the soon-to-be Dr. T. A. Giltner, who had invariably written something very similar to mine almost at the same moment I had written my own. Or bantering over a line with Rev. Kyle Welch (Doug's very-younger brother) who to this day puts up with my incessant barrage of manuscripts upon his email server. Without long suffering men like these, a writer buries most of his work. And even with them, I've buried a good deal of my own on a hard drive or under a mattress or even permanently in that massive fireplace we had in the cottage on Emperor road. The one the felled oak tore in twain.
In other words, many of what Professor Matt Proctor might call my "spare change minutes" over the years have ended up devoted to the mixing of metaphors to the tune of meter, verse, and rhyme.
And after awhile, the meter started to show up even in random drafts of children's books like the still-yet-to-be-sold "Harry Rides the Danger" which is about Mark Neuenschwander's (of 9art Photography's) son or "Shrackle Seeds" which is something like Carroll's Jabberwocky. It started to show up during my years as an editor when I reformed the poetry of clients. It even started to show up again in my marriage -- in little notes or letters or things hidden behind kitchen cabinet doors.
In that time, I sold some poems to various small magazines, but I stopped submitting fairly early on for two reasons --
(1) Poetry pay is crap. It's disgusting how little we pay our poets. Did you know a poet helped incite the Ukrainian revolution? Yeah, that would never happen in America these days. We've deferred the future of our language to Top 40 vapidity and advertising jingles.
(2) I have no interest in trying for laureate or whatever first because I would never make it and second because I value the lay poet as much as I value restoring the role of singing to the common man. We are a lyrically suppressed society as much as we are a vocally suppressed one -- and that idea comes to me by way of the songwriter and musician, Nicholas Zork, here in New York City (I think he's in Harlem these days). To revolt against vocal and lyrical suppression in the public sphere is to revolt against the worst parts of Americana, jingoism, and the imperial cult which thrives on brain drain and the gutting of our culture.
Then I sold a poem and an article to the 2016 Poet's Market randomly (the biggest advances in any author's career are often the most random, which shows that you really do have to be ready in season and out of season). Poets came out of the woodwork within my immediate sphere of influence to ask me questions as if I'm some expert when I'm really just fumbling my way along like the rest of you. It really wasn't a huge sale, all things considered, but it was a statistically significant anomaly simply by way of the poets it swept in its wake. So if nothing else the email fallout was something, I suppose.
But it truly felt doubly strange to me seeing as how (1) I'm a dilettante and (2) I have zero interest in becoming a professional poet moving forward. My role -- like your role -- must be that of restoring poetry's prominence in every home and every pub and every church and every barbershop.
And yet people have asked me about this subject. A lady messaged me last night for advice and two nights before that, the same. Why? Why would you do this? Why not email David Lee or C.D. Wright or Eugene Peterson or Berry or Wiman or Poe's gravestone in Baltimore or something?
They do it because poetry is a layperson thing and I'm the one layperson they happen to know who has invested time in this. That's it, it's nothing more, it's nothing astounding, nothing miraculous or noteworthy -- I'm their equivalent of the local blacksmith, the local tinker, the local tailor. I'm the poet they know and the best example of this comes from a street artist here in Brooklyn as well as my barber.
The street artist is named Appleton. He does these wheat pastings of insulin bottles. As a type one diabetic, Appleton hit it off with my wife immediately and I interviewed him for the piece Sitting at the Feet of Type One Diabetes. Shortly after, he asked me to do street art with him and though I'm no visual artist, he pressed me a bit to consider what I'd do. "Could you hang some poems?" I asked.
"Basquiat did that man. That's a good idea."
And so a devious collaboration started. One that would involve New York Subways and walls and would involve my words and Appleton's penchant for ornery behavior.
Meanwhile in Sunset Park, I continued further in my quest to become one of the pillars of the neighborhood -- not someone participating actively in gentrification, but someone who participates in what Gordon Ventruella calls cultural agility and situational awareness, the sort of chameleon adaptability that moves beyond survival and into the realm of solidarity. In short, I started learning Spanish in earnest and offering to tutor the illiterate and give to the poor and finally spending a lot of time in local organizing groups and hangout spots. One of them is a barbershop owned by a barber named Eric who has lived here his whole life. He spends every other Saturday night hefting those old barber chairs out of the way, setting up speakers, turning on the beats and letting people freestyle hip hop, beat box, perform new songs, and read some poetry.
I asked him if I could try some.
The last poetry reading I'd done was for a short film. A mic. No live audience.
He said, "Sure."
Took two weeks for me to take to the mic.
When I finally did, I found those guys -- my neighbors -- to be the single most receptive audience I have ever read for. More than any professor, any writing group, any theater. They care. They care because hip hop saved them and the neighborhood from what Eric calls "bombed out buildings." And they're no respecters of styles and fashions and forms: I'll read a spoken word piece and then a classical ode or a sonnet, both in the same hip hop rhythm, both in the same night, and they don't care. I read stuff that was written in Old English alliterative meter and it went over fine. One of the guys, a great dude named J.R., says, "More words, Lancelot. We just need more words."
Anyone that tells you poetry's dead, dying, or irrelevant has obviously never been to Brooklyn.
That's why out of curiosity tonight, a curiosity prompted by the slow culmination of steady nudges from several other writers I respect -- authors like Ellie Ann and Momma Therese Walsh who are much farther down the road than I am, I dug into my archive to see if there's enough for a book of poems from the last ten years.
The first thing I did was to refuse to copy/paste anything that was obviously atrocious, obviously unsavable, poems that I should leave in this great sea of hard drives to drown forever like some dark and secret naval scheme. Then I copied and pasted anything that vaguely interested me to see how much we had to play with.
Much of what I've left alone was published in small-run self-pubbed books like "Whispers in Green" way back when Labiakgneta "Novel for a Name" Zaidarzauva hand-drew me covers and Marilyn "Andretti" Wiggins bought up copies to encourage me. I still have a feeling that those books will come back to haunt me some day, but I leave them and the first poem I published in my high school's paper on my "Published Works" list because it's important for young authors to see an unbroken line of progress from childhood to adulthood, the catalyst of the work of duty required of us by some high school instructor that radiates outward to the work of love that ends up having mass effect in the professional world.
Having left out the nonsense, I STILL found a way to climb this very early and rather raw document up to 80,000 words of poetry (and climbing even as I wrote this). For those who don't work in word counts, it's longer than the first Harry Potter but just a hair shorter than To Kill A Mockingbird. This was absurd to me. I had no idea there was so much. Then again, one of my mentors Randy Gariss always says, "We overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in five." How much more for over the course of a decade?
Well, I copy-pasted more over the following weeks, and added the first draft of a book of self-published poetry to my very full slate for 2016, with plans to revise it towards publication for 2017. After the first pass I got it down to 60k, then after gutting more poems and lines, I whittled it down to 48,600 words which lives up to brother Doug Welch's constant exhortation, "Good. Now half as long," which is a quote from A River Runs Through It.
Some will think 48k is still overkill, that it's excessive, verbose, whatever. Christian Wiman finds collected poetry compilations offensive since he thinks poetry is so rare -- he says this as the former editor of Poetry magazine who had to reject manuscript after manuscript, so deepest sympathies and sincerest gratitude to brother Wiman. You must remember: I am filtering. I am trimming it down from a near-six-figure wordcount. Wiman thinks it's arrogant to do anything but assemble a handful of carefully crafted poems around a very targeted theme. I think I know what he means: moments of rapture are rare.
But then again I don't think poetry's the problem.
It's not poems per se that make rapture rare.
Certainly not an abundance of poems. If so, why would the same folk say that poetry's dying and "can live on very little?" How can poetry be BOTH so unpopular that it's uncommon for anyone to write it and yet so popular that it's too common to find true poetry?
As Chesterton said, "The world doesn't suffer from a lack of wonders but a lack of wonder." It's not that poetry's rare. It's that we rarely have an eye for it. It's not that we have too many poems -- I stand with those who say we have too few. Rather, it's that we have too few moments where we actually rise to the title of Poet. It's not that the world, in short, needs more enchantment. It needs more enchanters. It simply needs more of us who know how to cast read magic and who have knowledge both arcane and divine. With all due respect to Wiman, a terrible poet may write a terrible poem and submit it to Poetry magazine. A good poet like Wiman may become the editor of Poetry and reject that terrible poem from publication, deferring to the ones he prefers, and arguing for the elusiveness of poetry per se.
But a great poet would find rapture in the ugly and the disfigured and even in the abyss. And as the author of My Bright Abyss, I would think that Wiman would have applied that thinking to his own discipline, but perhaps if entitlement exists at all it exists for our own titles. Perhaps the one thing apologists defend most is their own syllogisms and apologies. So I wonder if it's possible to find poetry in a bad poem? After all, there's something poetic even about the smell of a nursing home, of those bright souls dying in obscurity and anonymity precisely because the world that benefitted so much from their labors now finds them inconvenient.
In another sense, an inconvenient old, horrible, local poet hanging out at some crappy diner in a ghost town, rightly considered, is a bright and lonely human soul.
So I really don't care if you think this manuscript is too big and that includes this 4,600-word introduction that's more a defense of poetry than it is anything like preparation for what follows. These are simply the poems I've written in my twenties -- at least the ones that can overcome the gravity of my own embarrassment and get airtime for the better half of a minute. With luck, a decent chunk of them will take flight. And with your advocacy, some of those poems will make intercontinental journeys.
With providence, maybe -- just maybe -- one of these poems might break the stratosphere and join the stars one day.
Maybe that's what Wiman meant? Classic poems?
Who cares, he won't read this. And in any case, whether any of these poems lingers is not for Christian Wiman or me or my family and friends or even you to decide.
I have zero commitment to the success of this book by any metric. I won't care if no one reads it. I'm doing this as a layman who believes that poetry should be circulated in small groups among friends just like how we should sing together at the end of a long dinner. Your family doesn't sing together at the end of a long dinner? Your family doesn't have long dinners? Your family doesn't sit down at the dinner table once a day? Make haste: start the tradition.
If anything, I'm trying to offer my friends what Amy León and Richard Prins have offered to me over the last two years -- poetry shared in the midst of the everyday. We have found common things at last, said Chesterton, and marriage and a creed and I may safely write it now and you may safely read. I look for the return of the common poet as surely as I look for the return of the butcher, the baker, the fowler, the cooper. Were not the bards once equal with kings? Did not Luther say, "If you can be a preacher, why stoop to be a king?"
Well what if you can be a poet?
It is a job for each of us, in the wee hours of the night or the small hours of the day, to "create a language the unborn may dare to speak," as C.D. Wright would have it. Write poetry and sing in public and we might steal back what the American insecurity and obsession with comfort stole from the Irish and Arab and Italian and Native American and Jewish German communities. We may reemerge lyrically and vocally literate, no longer gagged and muzzled.
In short, thanks for those few of you who have pushed me to -- quite literally -- my wit's end. That is, for those who pushed my mind towards the final cause -- the ends, not the means -- of Wit.
For those still wondering why in the name of Calliope would you publish a book of poems, Lance? There's one last reason: duty. The soldier must at least defend. The painter must at least discover new ways of combining pigment and lighting. The writer must at least create that language the unborn may dare to speak. English has suffered an assault of ten thousand compromises. We have given our word-birthing and word-begetting over to the petty portmanteau of copywriters -- explain to me just how in the hell "entreporneur" makes the porn business acceptable? And if it does (it doesn't, but if it did), is that a net win for society? As a recovering copywriter myself, I can say with confidence this forfeiture of language creation to businessmen may be the greatest linguistic crime of the millennia -- on par with N.S. in word history section of any given etymology in the dictionary or the creations of the term "non-persons" by Stalin. We have given our etymology over to the politicians and lobbyists. We have sold out our language's birthright to the revisionist histories of power mongers and the new pornographers and are left with little more than pop culture for its creation -- left with less than even Esau's bowl of soup. Luckily, the R&B crowd and the horniness of high school students strike upon a new vein of semiotics several times every year, but our language is on life support at best.
At worst, it's comatose and hemorrhaging.
Where are you, poets?
Relegated to those dungeons owned by all of the above, forced to write with a gun to their head, hiding in the hip hop hollows that masquerade as barbershops and bakeries. There was a time when poetry -- hell, when singing itself -- was something expected of all English speakers. Our vocally suppressed society and, in equal measure, our lyrically suppressed society measures our songs not by what they offer posterity but by their catchiness, not by their depth but by the contagion hidden within their own vapidity. People read no more poetry because they've cut out their poetic ligature--the language they've created offers no backstage suspension from which to hang new words, let alone to manifest the magical flight that accompanies said strings.
I believe in shaping English for the better because I love her just like I believe in shaping my wife's character for the better because I love her. I don't claim to be good at either. I don't aspire to win awards for my work towards either end. I don't anticipate income through publishing or publicizing either. I doubt even the majority of my readership will get their hands on this volume and fewer still will hear of the private stories created by me and my wife. There remains room for reticence in both quests: the hardest part of Frodo's journey is the lonely, quiet road.
I claim to merely do my duty, to God and my country, to help other people, and to obey the law of the poet.
For better or worse, this is some of the contribution I made to tomorrow's English speakers from 2005–2017, from age 18 to age 30. It's my duty as a common -- as your local -- poet to publish it. Which also means it's your duty to filter out the dross (i.e. most of the words in this book) and let the world know if you found any gold in here. Our culture depends on this -- not only in this book, but in all of the books of all of our poets.
Thanks for being relentless in the reading of my work. I'll continue to be relentless in the writing of it.
As for the title, I've named the volume "Inconveniences Rightly Considered" for four reasons. The first and most obvious I must blame, as always, on Chesterton.
G.K. Chesterton wrote a very short piece that everyone should read entitled On Chasing After One's Hat in which he argues that an adventure is really a matter of perspective and traveling companions, not a destination or a time slot or a reason for travel. His typical one-liner from that piece goes, "An inconvenience, rightly considered, is an adventure. An adventure, wrongly considered, is an inconvenience." In that spirit, the spirit articulated above, these poems come from my adventures over the last decade.
∴ they also come from having rightly considered all of my inconveniences. That definition of adventure is also a wonderful definition of poetry. I say this as a romantic in the old sense of the word, as someone attempting to build upon Inkling and neoplatonic thought, as someone whose every contact with the world sends out further spores of mystery and chivalry, bee and his pollen, love and the court that follows after her. After all, the damsel's distress had nothing to do with needing saving and everything to do with the internal turmoil of her mind as it attempted to seek the higher in the midst of the every day. She was distressed not because she was in a tower and needed a prince, but because it's hard work to rightly consider the inconvenient. Again, Chesterton from his book on Blake:
"We all feel the riddle of the earth without anyone to point it out. The mystery of life is the plainest part of it. The clouds and curtains of darkness, the confounding vapours, these are the daily weather of this world. Whatever else we have grown accustomed to, we have grown accustomed to the unaccountable. Every stone or flower is a hieroglyphic of which we have lost the key; with every step of our lives we enter into the middle of some story which we are certain to misunderstand...."
At the intersection of those two Chesterton quotes lies this book of poems. In life, you come across inconveniences all the time -- a stone in your shoe, a raincloud over your morning walk (in Brooklyn, a drizzle seems a downpour when endured for thirty blocks), a flower petal in your eye, a loose baby tooth, gallstones that pass and come out in the shape of fool's gold. When these things happen, you have two choices -- annoyance or reverence. Those who treat the inconveniences of this world, the nuisances and trials, the bothers and pains with reverence -- there lie your adventurers, your romantics, your poets. Everything truly is a hieroglyphic, a prop in the midst (and mist) of this great and eternal drama we find ourselves within, something we are certain to misunderstand without the proper key.
And that includes the bad poems brother Wiman rejected.
Poetry, for me, has been one of these keys to unlock the inconvenient -- even inconvenient, lesser poems that I do not like and cannot "get." Poetry's not the skeleton key, of course, but it is something like a key to the foyer. Poetry, when done well, unlocks the bothers and nuisances of everyday life, sometimes through observation, sometimes through participation, never through willful ignorance and disengagement. Poetry begs us to engage with the world around us, to discover the story and the world hidden in every little thing, to delve into that Inside which is surely deeper and higher and broader than any outside, let in The Light through that crack in everything, and call us further Up and further In.
Which is also the third thing: my methodology. I do not write a poem unless I find myself rightly considering some inconvenience in my day-to-day. Of the poems I have written, I have not kept one in here unless, upon rereading, the poem itself helped me to consider some inconvenience aright once more. And that means that I also find this whole volume to be terribly inconvenient for my professional schedule but also, rightly considered, something like an adventure -- I have had to turn these poems over and again in my mouth like the pebble that wards off hunger. And I find myself a little less starved now that I've finished.
But the last reason?
The last reason is that "inconvenience, rightly considered" is another word for Epiphany. Once the wisest men in the world found themselves inconvenienced by the omens in the stars and the events on their calendar books, but rightly considering it all they went to Bethlehem. There they found another inconvenience: an unexpected pregnancy that resulted in a toddler. Rightly considered, the boy became the Epiphany of epiphanies, the inconvenience of inconveniences that rings all considerations until they tune out right. The more I puzzled that out, the more I discovered this book's structure -- the poems naturally started sorting themselves into the seasons of the ecclesiastical calendar. However, unlike most books arranged by the church calendar, we will begin with Easter and end with the Black Sabbath. My reasoning will be explained in the final section, which ends -- and indeed the whole book ends -- not with one of my poems but with one of T.A. Giltner's for his is better and truer to the theme and therefore more fitting for a finale.
The names of the sections -- something like my tale of contents -- are:
Language and its Irreducible Complexity on the Ecclesiastical Full Moon
Penance in Eastertide
Beyond the Mountain for a Week of Weeks
The Solemnity of Elemental Weaves
Is Your Mind Meaningless? And other thoughts to mind in ordinary time...
The Gentry Moved in on Halloween
The Jester's a Herald? Wait... Wait a minute: did The Lord invent laughter?
Inconveniences, Rightly Considered
Looking into the Abyss while Chewing Glass (and the Abyss Stares Back)
Here, at the mixing of metaphors and the spelunking of steel bricks and the flight of gravitation, we'll find the door opening beyond our before into something...
Now consider, with me, how...
-- Lancelot Schaubert
King's Park (Long Island)
26 December 2015
as the sun sets, having hidden
behind the sky's greying hair
Language and its Irreducible Complexity on the Ecclesiastical Full Moon
originally published in the 2016 Poet's Market
...the Germanic tribes
had a word
but it sounds like "book."
I've wondered whether
brauchen – "to
– is related to bruch...
For our world's stomach
beats us, erodes... or
how The Brook
deltas Marshland's clothes.
Old English men came
to use broc:
in a marsh.
And new words arose:
The Poet tramps through
the marsh then
to help his
Misses cook a meal,
drops a plate down
on a stone
reminds him of broc.
He points. Says, "Broc." Writes.
His village cites.
stops. Revises its source:
Broke. (A word is born).
then mouth. One
spank, then follows sound.
One life-giving muse,
broke (penniless; pain)
We come to now, to
towns how named,
We ask our burrow:
what is this?
Oh what will you be,
For Eugene Peterson
( who claimed to have liked it once )
(( hopefully I didn't edit out the parts you liked, wherever you are ))
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