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Reading Wanda, Thinking Dante

I’ve been reading my way through Wanda Coleman’s wonderful, sadly posthumous collection Wicked Enchantment, giving voice out loud each morning to one poem or section of a poem. An invigorating exercise it has been. In her vibrancy, specificity, psychological acuity, social awareness, outrage, sexiness, honesty, fearlessness, tenderness, violence, despair, humor, horror, joy, alienation, engagement, command of high and low vocabulary and diction, stylistic virtuosity, control of and freedom from form, Wanda was, in my estimation, one of the greatest American poets. This morning, I chanced across the following section of her long work Salvation Wax. In it, she perfectly encapsulates the difference between logic based modes of thought and perception, on the one hand, and the type of mentation that informs good poetry, on the other. I am setting up a false opposition here; in the real world, rarely does one encounter either of these extremes in pure form, and it’s a good thing that one doesn’t. Anyway... so, what’s the relevance of this to In Dante’s Wake? Simply that it highlights and underlines the ways that a poetic account of human morality is necessarily different from that provided by moral philosophy. Dante explained this in terms of what he saw as the transcendental revelations of true religion, versus what can be achieved by unaided human reason. I would concur with Wanda in placing things on a humbler and more complicated level:

meditation on

a glass half empty, half full

on average, how many sips per half? how many sips quench? are we talking shot, cocktail, highball, goblet or chalice? fresh, briny, or rain? pure, filtered, polluted? artesian or aerated? dry, sweet or heavy? young or aged? what is the potential for filling? refill? are there additional resources accessible, such as refrigerator, tap, decanter, Thermos, or liquor store across the street? is this to be shared or enjoyed in privacy? to what extent is degree of thirst a factor?