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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Joseph Stroud Chats with Tu Fu

Joseph Stroud was reading some of his poems on the radio as I drove this evening.  All were intriguing, but one struck me particularly.  In it he affirms and re-asks a question from the Chinese poet Tu Fu about the measure of life.  It is not unlike a question that occupied the Greek Aristotle and drove his writing about virtue and ethics:  what constitutes a good life?  Intertwined in this shared set of inquiries is the puzzle of how the moments and relationships, the times and places, the stages and phases of a life hold together and converge to make a person, a whole life that one might call "good."  Rather than go any further down the path to windbaggery, let me just share Stroud's poem and what it spurred me to write as well.  You can find this poem in Stroud's most recent book of poems, Of This World.

I've never been one to do much revising.  The percolation and redisposition of my writing is more latent from days or months or years of thinking over and back over something.  So I'll just put this out there right away, even though it probably could be better.

Once I imagined myself a poet.
I wrote in bursts of inspiration
About loves and friends and
Potent moments of turning
Or grasping at life and death
When they walked up to me
To say, “Can you spare some change
For the bus?”
Prosish poems, not so artful,
Not so crafty, but with a clever turn
Of phrase here and there,
Always in a hurry to get on to what’s next.

I was on top of the world,
Or soon to be on the top,
Riding the momentum of a life
I had been given while being
Taught that I was
Making it myself.
The poems posed me
Over against and in among
People around me,
Or echoed my ambition to
Know the lifescape in which
Other poets had written their
Verses that now my teachers
Assigned me to study.

Then I stopped reading poems,
Went on to find other pages.
Embraced and embracing my beloved,
Making a home, walking a path together,
I wrote more than ever,
But not poems.
She was my poem.
The poem we were writing
Was an encompassing life,
A vision too close to my eyes,
Too deep in the ears for my eardrums,
Too far into my lungs to smell—
Somewhere in the flow of blood,
The respiration of mitochondria,
Amidst synaptic exchanges—
Organic flourishing,
Not composed:  it writing me
In rhythms of iambs, anapests,
Dactyls, trochees,
Rhyming or blank,
Unchained melodies.

A poem’s long unfolding ended.
She is not beside me.
The rhythmic feet falter,
A cataract grows and visions dim.
I go looking for books of poems
That they may read me and read to me
Of a life well lived and worth living
Even when the path disappears,
When sight seems untrustworthy,
When voices echo beyond hearing.
Such a long poetic frame—
It seemed to be the air I breathed.

I am still breathing.
Joseph Stroud converses with Tu Fu,
As I eavesdrop (having not noticed
The falling dark of this night
That burgeons mere hours before
Morning will again open with sunlight),
Suggesting I enter words in the ledger
Of a friendship
Spanning innumerable years.

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