Sarah Avery (dr_pretentious) wrote,
Sarah Avery

Technicians Of The Sacred, With A Side Order of Whimsy

When I was a young poetry student, my favorite teacher introduced me to a book that blew my mind. Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred made the case for poetry as a technology for changing the material world--and made the case that in many cultures that was literally, not figuratively or indirectly, the way people thought about poems. Check out the table of contents here: Walt Whitman collected alongside the funeral rites of the Gabon Pygmies, Shakespeare and Wallace Stevens alongside anonymous dialogues between the god Tlaloc and his worshippers and anonymous poems to accompany the Yaqui deer dance. Rothenberg's insistence that poems from the high art tradition of the West were on a living continuum with poetry that did stuff, or at least was seen by the peoples who created and preserved it as doing stuff, was foundational for me as a writer. I may not pick up my copy of Technicians of the Sacred when I'm wrestling with my fiction, but it's a book I think about whenever I'm composing new liturgy in my practice as a Wiccan priestess. I'd recommend it for any coven's reading list for clergy training, and for any writer, regardless of genre.

Meanwhile, Zach's doctor tells him he must not do anything that "insults the liver," by which Dr. Bigwig means dietary carelessness and alcohol. Says my sister, As soon as he said this, though, I pictured Zach yelling curses and mean names at his liver. I was thinking of all the things I would like to say to his liver too. I guess we will only be allowed to say nice and encouraging things. This is probably for the best.

I don't yet have a poem to encourage Zach's liver, though I have written it a letter.

My mother came up with an ode to Zach's liver that has stuck in my head so tenaciously, it's the mental equivalent of a wind-powered Tibetan prayer wheel in the gustiest pass in the Himalayas. Anytime I'm not actively concentrating on something else, Mom's spell starts singing itself in my brain. It's goofy, even a little annoying, and yet brilliant in its earworm-y simplicity:

We love you, Li-i-ver,
Oh, yes, we do-oo.
We love you, Li-i-ver,
So don't turn blu-oo.
That tumor's got to go!
It's through!
O Li-i-ver,
We love you!

Not what Jerome Rothenberg had in mind when he set out to revitalize American poetry, but I stand in awe of it as a conduit for energy.
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