Let me say I’m unencumbered and enthralled
to stand beneath this starry sweep of night.
Contentedly, I’ve no idea what might occur.
Or even if, for once, I’ll usher out this proclamation
and not be thumped, harangued, snickered at,
not be caught off guard by some heckler always
present, even in myself. Unlikely, to say the least,
but, hey, it’s a new century, and what if everyone
decided to be generous, upbeat, to praise a little,
to hurl the most preposterous claims at the face
of a cynical world? Like: I hear you, owl,
and the answer is me. Like: each of us
was made for joy and can’t be extricated.
Like: the sum of all we wander through
can lead us, lead us, lead us past the self
into the flawed but hopeful cares of others.
Well, it was a new century after all, full of possibilities, hopes, optimism, a praise book I was already writing but not fully aware of yet, a narrative I would one day attempt to restore, a small revolution I would try to begin. Around the same time, I had also written a poem titled “To Fellow Poets,” my attempt to move my generation beyond its cynicism and irony, beyond poems beginning in despair, loss, darkness, uncertainty, indeterminacy, as if these were the sole provinces of wisdom. Years later I would write a lecture, "Gallant with Delight: Joy as Wisdom in Literature." The book description I wrote for my first collection Fall Sanctuary would hit upon these ideas as well, stating in part:
These poems demand to know whether joy, reverence, gratitude, and empathy can exist with fullness
in an age that privileges irony, suspicion, cynicism, and ridicule. Is there, in fact, a “genuine” face behind
the faces we prepare to meet the faces others have prepared for us to meet? For the reader tired of being
told the world is nothing more than constructs and fictions, Hardin asks, “Oh why don’t we admit
we’re exhausted?/It takes great effort not to shout for joy when we see each other.”
There was more to the description, but this first half announces the ideas I was exploring at the time. Whether I was aware or not, writing poems was becoming my way of creating a “sanctuary,” one “with hymns and prayers voiced unabashedly.”
I’d hate to describe my persona, but others have told me that I am very serious and philosophical while also being very funny and whimsical, sometimes even a goofball. I would probably have a hard time refuting such descriptions. My goofiness comes into this poem with words like “but, hey," a kind of lightheartedness despite the prospect of being “thumped, harangued, snickered at.” I’ll admit that I laughed out loud when I wrote, “I hear you owl,/and the answer is me.” Will that sound arrogant, I wondered, or will a reader be simply amused? I was hoping for amused.
This poem went through eight different overhauls before settling on this particular version. Sometimes the line breaks were radically different. Of particular note is how the repetition of “Like” in the last few lines was left-justified through almost all versions until the last two versions. Also, the first version began with the word “Anyway,” an attempt at deflation and humor (a manifesto beginning so nonchalantly, I thought, was funny), and the first line contained the word “stupendously” in front of “enthralled.” Stupendously enthralled? I figured I’d be lucky to get away with “enthralled,” so I dropped the overwrought adjective. I still like it, though. If one is going to be enthralled, one might as well be stupendously enthralled.
The most work, it seems, went into the last line. The first version, in a different tense, read: “leads us past the self into each other’s braided care.” I liked “braided,” especially since the idea can be traced throughout my work. Version two: “leads us past the self into the faulty care of others, others, others.” The repetition of “others” was intended to play off the repetition of “lead us,” but “braided” was now replaced by “faulty,” acknowledging our fallibility. By version four, though, the last line had morphed into the “exceptionally flawed but hopeful cares of others.” How could something be “exceptionally flawed”? Yes, we are fallible, but we are wonderfully made, and in many ways part of the manifesto of my writing proclaims the inexplicable intertwining of our lives, the way that U2’s “One” says, “We get to carry each other.” By version five the idea was changed to “flawed-exceptionally hopeful cares of others” while in the last versions the idea became “flawed but hopeful cares of others.”
By its nature, a manifesto is a statement of self, but what if the self is really crying out to trust itself to others? What if the self is trying to find a way to “be naïve enough/to be naïve again,” as the poem “To Fellow Poets” suggests. Part of the sanctuary of the fall—alluding to my first book—is admitting to being “burnt out…on being burnt out” and thus willing to speak “without irony about the dew.” Part of the praise song of my second book is to step more fully into the sense, the radical and endlessly explicable sense, of being “enthralled.” One way to restore the narrative of the my third book is to own up to the myth one makes of the self in a world of competing versions all trying to own the narrative, while part of the small revolution of my fourth book is to “overthrow the language” of cynicism, irony, and suspicion. I mean, as "Naysayers" states,
we're long past words
like fulfillment, revelation,
but we could always revisit them
to see what we overlooked.
After all, we are fallible, but we could "decide to be generous" toward each other and the care we give to one another. Looking forward to my fifth book, there really is No Other Kind of World than the one in which each of us is a miracle of existence, “a mystery we cannot read alone.” There is no other kind of world than the one in which "we talk of a need to witness miracles,/each of us flying so close at each other/until the last possible moment, then veering..."