Found Poetry

A Facebook friend today posted some beloved lines, something I actually have on a magnet that re-surfaced just last week:

“I beg you . . . to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without ever noticing it, live you want into the answer . . .” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

One question: How frigging old will I have to be before I live my way into the answer? But then, perhaps I haven’t been very successful at living the questions. A completion junkie, I like to finish things — tasks, books (reading and writing), trips. Perhaps that’s why I hate gardening. It’s never truly done. 

The Rilke magnet once held this strange document to the metal door in my office. It is a hotel message from seven years ago, taken by someone — I feel safe in saying this — whose first language was not English. (To be fair, if you asked me to take a message in Spanish, the grammar would be similar.) Can you read it?

The letter is not an imperative, as it might seem. Mark Billingham is not ordering me to eat soft-shell crabs in Toronto, but trying to say that I will be buying them for him there, as I have lost a bet. The bet centered on my belief that something nice wouldn’t happen for me; Mark had more conviction and we ante’ed up a dinner. I’m still not sure if I’ve ever paid up. Soft-shell crabs were not in season, not in October.

A second piece of paper, affixed with a Whitman magnet (“Stand up for the stupid and the crazy . . .”) requires a little more sleuthing on my part to date. The front, which shows a man being drowned by his own creation, gives away nothing. But if I flip it to the back, I see that it’s a “side” from a script called “All Due Respect” and dated May 13, 2004. This would have been The Wire’s third season.

I don’t write a lot about Mr. Lippman’s work on my blog. It’s not as if he’s being ignored and no one can expect me to be objective. But I think it’s instructive, seven-plus years later, to be reminded that The Wire, despite what people think they know about it, wasn’t hailed as the greatest show in the history of television during Season 1 or Season 2. And by the time Season 3 started to film, one of its executive producers, Robert F. Colesberry, had died most unexpectedly. The widespread acclaim really began with Season 4.

So I find this cartoon oddly cheering and endearing, another reminder to live the questions and stop being so worried about the answers.

And for those of you waiting for the answer as to who won last week’s drawings — try living the question for just a little while longer.

I wrote this  in the morning. Since then, I’ve learned of a horrible tragedy that affects young friends, the death of two men Saturday night in what appears to be an accident related to the hurricane. Sometimes, it’s really hard to live the questions. 

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28 thoughts on “Found Poetry

  1. “How frigging old will I have to be before I live my way into the answer?” The best answer to that question for me comes from “Shakespeare in Love” and is spoken by Geoffrey Rush’s character several times: “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

    As for “The Wire” not catching on immediately, that’s not uncommon. “Seinfield” comes to mind. The scary thing to me is how many series have been cancelled before they had a chance to really hit their stride and build an audience. We’ve lost a lot to network suits and their impatience for immediate results.

    I love your London phone message. I love that the hotel is so polite it prints “With Compliments” on phone messages no matter how silly, serious, odd or interesting the dictated phone message might be! And I think you should still buy Mr. Billingham some nice crabs in case you do still owe him.

  2. That’s really funny. Now I wonder why, too. Maybe Mark’s long message peeved the concierge so much that he no longer send it to you with compliments but begrudgingly!

  3. Since I am almost entirely poetry deaf, I was going to make a flip comment about the pedestrian magnets on my fridge (places I’ve visited, and my own book covers, though those are the covers designed by My Son The Artist, which is pretty cool), but instead, I’ll just send good thoughts to your friends.

  4. Always found it amazing that both of Mr. Lippman’s efforts, The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street had cult like devotion from fans and yet ratings which regularly threatened cancellation. With the Tess series, at what point did you realize that you had a solid enough following to guarantee enough sales that your publisher was “satisfied”?

  5. Laura — I am more than three-quarters through the most dangerous thing. I didn’t think I would like it as I am not fond of books that go back and forth in time, but I have been drawn in and can’t wait to finish it. Now, my big question is whether we will ever see Tess again. I really do miss her and her books. I have read them all and keep waiting for a new one to appear. I do like your stand alones, and I love Tess. Keep up the good work. Oh, one more thought. You grew up in Baltimore, and you never mention Columbia, but I know you went to high school there and assume you graduated from there. When did your family move there?

  6. I finished the most dangerous thing. And Tess lives! Does this mean that we may see Tess again in her own book? I am looking forward to the day when we will read about her adventures again. I did enjoy the book. Very well done.

  7. Gail, my family lived in Columbia from 1945-1977 — basically, my last three years of high school. My stepson lives there, however, so it’s remained a part of my life.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Tess and hope I can find time to write some short stories about her, although they would probably pre-date the birth of her child. Incorporating her baby into a PI novel — I haven’t found the right way to do it, not yet. But I miss her, too.

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