Welcome to Confluences, a weekly column on art, kinship and life. Each week we approach one of the themes of the magazine’s current print issue by looking at a creative event, endeavour, or body of work that links to that theme and taps into a larger conversation with the world around us.
Spring is around the corner in the northern hemisphere, the first joyful (yet troublingly early) blooms emerging - just as, in the southern hemisphere, summer embarks on its slow simmer into autumn. At least to me, this bridge season always feels like an inflection point - a moment where the still-somewhat-new year’s directional bellwether trembles with indecision. In times that feel uncertain, it behooves us to engage our capacity for observation and gratitude toward everyday sources of wonder. How can we intentionally maintain a keen awareness of awe - even as we responsibly digest news and withstand change or precarity? Where can we consciously pause to acknowledge the moments that inspire wonder? How can we observe and engage mindfully with the world around us in more ways than one - and, particularly, in ways that feel conscious or simply feel good?
To maintain this awareness (as writer and activist adrienne maree brown argues in Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good) can be a conscious, even political, choice. We can, brown writes, “generate power from the overlapping space of desire and aliveness, tapping into an abundance that has enough attention, liberation, and justice for all of us to have plenty”. As I wrote in Issue #9, loving awareness can be a radical act; earthing oneself a means of preservation.
Awe is the organising principle of American poet James Crews’ titular poem, which I’ve found myself returning to again and again lately. In Issue #9’s Seeking Reverence, I discussed the poetry of Wendell Berry as a balm for challenging times. For Berry, I wrote, spiritual ecology is a practice of reverence. His poems are meditations, and observant ones at that: a set of gentle signposts for communing with the natural world. Crews’ poem feels distinctly of this lineage: a field guide to tiny, beautiful moments of transcendent nature.
Crews’ descriptions of the phenomenon of awe - or the sensation of experiencing it - are crisp and precise, descriptive on a literal level while simultaneously hitting a wider emotional register: “Each tingle a bright white / morning glory breaking into blossom / beneath the skin.” What a rich image those words paint: a blooming of exuberant, plosive sounds spoken from the chest to portray an equally embodied encounter with awe in the natural world. Throughout the poem, there is a similar sense of cross-pollination between the natural and the human realms. A tree is turned to a chandelier by the glimmer of sunlight; a branch wears a sleeve of ice. There are always other ways of seeing, other ways of looking.
Crews wrote the poem after an ice storm kept him confined to his Vermont home, at a moment when he was “feeling kind of trapped and isolated by the weather and realised there was still so much beauty around me”. Wonder and awe, according to the poem, “are decisions we make daily, hourly, / minute by minute in the tiny offices / of the heart”. And so this is where I return to our theme, consciousness: we must be alert and ready, anywhere and anytime, to seek out awe, to feel it, and to enjoy it.
Confluences: On James Crews