‘The Art of Seeing’ by Michael Milton
My modest return to writing poetry (see November 15, 2015 ‘Bloggers’ section of The Brooklyn Reader), was prompted, in part, after discovering Bed-Stuy poet Walt Whitman’s evocative opus, CROSSING BROOKLYN FERRY. My excitement for the form was quickly re-kindled. Whitman’s long lined stanzas spin out, fugue-like; future and past, spiritual and earthly play simultaneously, his words brimming with new and unexpected possibilities.
So, this last ‘Art of Seeing’ of 2015 and the first which will appear in January of 2016 are both, in part, a response to this personal, poetical renaissance.
Poetry has always felt to me to be an ‘impulsive’ art form; there is a kind of urgency, a fleeting moment which, if captured on the page, might encapsulate some truth about the human experience.
With year-end reflections, I see my own life as a series of moments which fit onto either one side or the other of a ledger with headings reading ‘satisfaction’ or ‘regret.’ I admire people who respond to life ‘with their gut,’ impulsively. I don’t often trust my gut—a regret.
Still, some of my greatest satisfactions this year have been derived from moments when I HAVE manned up and wandered down some unexplored path guided by wordless instinct.
For example, early in my days singing with New Amsterdam Singers, I met one of the fellows in the chorus and developed a gut feeling about him; a ‘bro-crush,’ if you wish, though we hardly knew one another; we sang in different sections and I don’t recall us even speaking often in those first months.
My response to him was multi-layered: first, I remember hearing him sing; a lovely, clear, emotionally anchored tenor. Simultaneously, there was something about his face and expression; he reminded me of the Byzantine mosaics of Christian saints which covered the walls and ceilings of houses of worship from Rome to Constantinople around 1000 AD; broad, open, expressive faces, short clipped hair, light beards, round eyes filled with wonder, pain and revelation.
For whatever reason, he inspired my curiosity. I was patient. I observed him often writing notes off on his own during breaks or before performances. After a year and a half, my mental dossier on Professor Nate Mickelson included the following facts: He had lived in Brooklyn; his former relationship had flourished and ended there; and he was about to receive his doctorate in poetry.
Ah, back to poetry! Timing, I suppose, is everything. I know I’m stretching it here, but there is a sort of ‘art’ in learning to trust that impulsive voice within ourselves; and maybe another kind of art in actually acting upon it. I did act and I’m thankful for that, inspired not only by Professor Mickelson’s own poetry, but by his observations on Brooklyn’s literary son Walt Whitman.
SPECULATION by Nate Mickelson
For years I’ve written poems with you in mind,
specifically you, because you demand
boldface honesty, not lies, not pretense,
but the everyday and the everywhere.
As a result sometimes the poems are hard,
discomforting, strange in their questioning,
and sometimes they are soft, pliant, take on
the impressions of thoughts I think you share.
I write about family, often men,
about Brooklyn, being scared, sad, damaged,
about sex or lack of sex, about joy,
love, souls, what happens to us day by day.
I’m not convinced they’re worth much, these poems,
growing, as they do, from my depths only,
not from yours, drawing on my mind’s frenzy,
my spirit’s burden, not on your delights.
Lately I’ve wondered what they add to your
experience, whether they challenge you,
make you think, whether my words help you see
your world, your future, your past with new eyes.
Nevertheless, I hope you read them, read
them through, live in their sounds and their meanings,
for I fear that without them, without me,
you might lose your hold on what we’ve become.
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