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Writing and Seeing | 7.1 Poet Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo

Trevor Sutton

wrist 7.1 Poet Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo writes about a broken wrist and the ritual of seeing.

A few weeks ago, I broke my right wrist, the one I use to write. It’s currently immobilized—under the skin, with metal plate and screws, and over the skin, with a cast of purple fiberglass.  This has disturbed my regular rituals and rhythms of writing.

After more than twelve years of writing poetry regularly, I have developed more than a few. Some have to do with time of day, and others with how I set up my laptop or tracking system.  But the most important practice of what makes the poetry happen is opening the poetic eye. Not unlike Emerson’s transparent eyeball, it creates a kind of mystical awareness of the world.  But in true twenty-first century form, my poetic ‘eyeball’ doesn’t always let the self drop away.  It is a net in which ideas can be caught and held up to the light.  My juxtapositions are often between the sacred and the profane—a news report, a piece of art, commercial detritus, a personal experience--in the same field of vision as a religious idea or image.

The profane is everywhere, but connecting the sacred takes practice. Sometimes the sight of an unfamiliar object, or a snatch of conversation, reminds me of a particular theological idea, frequently one that I have sought to explain to students in my Hinduism or Judaism classes. A hesitant churchgoer, (I practice a kind of attendio divina), my beloved Episcopal Eucharist can also provide another sight of the liturgical God. Just reading scripture is not enough; the poems require the physical engagement of religious practice.

Close attention—visual, tactile, aural—requires practice too. It is symbiotic with the discipline of writing. Otherwise, what I notice can just pile up and rust into a poetic junkyard. I must keep writing to keep seeing.

Right now, I am watching for the purple cast’s reflection--what opens into the world (and in scripture) when life gets broken. And I’m learning to type with one hand.

Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo is author of "Flies" and "In Which Buddah Reads Aloud Firecracker Instructions"  in issue 7.1 of Relief.