This is my blog.

Mummy and FriendArs Poetica 

by Bryan D. Dietrich            

Black hair slicked back like an oil spill, the preacher stands before the podium, one hand on the Bible, the other raised, tense and turbulent, fisted, destined to descend like the hammer of God.  He’s preaching from Second Timothy, the exhortations of Paul:  “‘For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.’”  For the next hour, he unpacks the prescience of this epistle, relating it to our time, to our tiny, lurching lives here in Oklahoma.  He decries the shortcomings of science, the evils of evolution, says we won’t find answers in any SkyLab.  Monster movies, comic books, the new craze for pyramid power and Bigfoot....  “How far, oh Lord, have we fallen?”  The occult, alien abduction, Jimmy Carter....  Fables.  If we turn to them, he says, we turn into them, we lose our license (may as well tear up our lease) on heaven.

             

“This,” he whispers, pointing to the King James translation before him, “this is the only answer.  This is the Word.  The Word made flesh.  Christ.  Christ in us.  We read the Word, and the Word makes us matter.  You...” and here he points to us, me, ten years old, comics in pockets, transfixed in the plush pews of the First Baptist Church, “you are the ears that must hear the Word.  Tell it, spread it, challenge those who would rather listen to fables.  You...” I, I think, I  “...must understand.  No ‘man shall take away from the words of the book,’ no man.  Understand.  Listen.  ‘If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.’  Paul is talking to you.  They, he says, they shall be turned unto fables.  Their ears.  Theirs, not yours.  See, follow with me now.  See how he emphasizes theirThey will become the stories they invent.  Not you.  You must be the incarnation of the Word, the only word.  This.”  And the fist comes down.           

I will never forget those sermons.  Especially that one.  How a Baptist preacher taught me the power of language.  How it liberates.  How it lies.  Some years later I discovered the concept of translation, uncovered the uncomfortable fact that those italicized words weren’t about emphasis after all, that they were, in fact, words added by translators for the sake of sense, that languages don’t always work the same way for every culture, that what my preacher had spent most of a Sunday afternoon focused on, deconstructing, was actually absence.  And, I suppose, in some strange way, most of what he said that day was right.  We are the word incarnate.  We are our stories, as well as the words that make them.  This is what I write.  We are what isn’t, because we only know this world through a set of symbols that also aren’t.  We are always already fable, formed by what we form.  Our thinking, evolution, culture, all of it, all the tales we tell ourselves....  We are mutter made matter, poetry progeny, glottal run rampant.  And oh, what tales.  I guess I learned to love them all, from Shadrach to Shazam, from Beowulf to the Black Lagoon, from Falstaff to Frankenstein Conquers the World.  When I write, I try to bring back all of this, exactly this, my ten-year-old sense of wonder, of paradox, of power.             

These days I use Superman to discuss the archetype of Fisher King, the image of the ark (his, Osiris’, Moses’) as metaphor for transition, old covenant to new.  I write about Krypton, Paradise Island, Skull Island, Area 51...all our modern maps of rapture.  I engage evolution, explore faith’s font in death.  Mixing monomyth with Universal monsters, I preach each is that’s sewn from seems:  King Kong as creator, Atlantis as Avalon, Waco as Wodin’s wonderland, all our absences, all so pregnant with promise.  Having turned from Word to word for worship, praying equally at the altars of Eliot and Eerie Tales, finding salvation even in Sgt. Fury, whatever I do, I do with a spirit of Spirit—that absence we fill with fable—in mind.  I could do no other.  My philosophy (cobbled from Kant, cosmology, comic books, from James Whale as much as white whale) is an attempt to meet humanity and divinity halfway.  I strive to find the meaning in the detritus of culture, in relationships, in our longing for and fear of the sublime. 

In a world that tells us the internet is where we should do research, the library is old fashioned, print is obsolete, our stories and our media need to get to the point, good classrooms can be virtual....  In the shadow of this growing plague, that preacher is still in me somewhere, preaching the words, revering where they came from, believing ideas we meet face to face are still important, believing the word can save us.  This may sound strange coming from someone who believes our story starts and stops in the stars, but, more often than not, I still hear him in my poetry.  Him, his voice, the voice of my old Baptist preacher.  He would probably be appalled.