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Marty Williams

Marty Williams

M. L. Williams is the author of the chapbook Other Medicines and coeditor of How Much Earth: The Fresno Poets, along with many anthology and journal publications. He co-emcees the Poetry Corner for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and teaches creative writing and contemporary literature at Valdosta State University in Georgia.
Lorca And The Copenhagen School Of Physics   

Kurt’s Curiosity

He stands in the yard of his new digs in Santa Barbara showing Chris Buckley and me what he calls “my orchard” with that Kurtian faux grandiosity that he’s so good at, arched eyebrows, arm raised magisterially and his voice slowed and low, then the smile releases and we laugh and his sweetness rises to us standing on the deck above him. But he knows the names of all the fruit trees, the plants, not simply the poet’s compendium of cool words to use in poems, but even the Latin. He could have held a lucid conversation about grafting with my late grandfather, a Paso Robles farmer who grew almonds and grapes that made wine that Kurt and I have shared. And he knows these things, but it’s his joy in discovery, his curiosity, that leads him to paths back in time to a dismal plague-wracked epoch or out to the quasar reaches of the edge of the universe, the beginning of time, or into the heart of the quarks. Kurt keeps that part of the boy who marvels at every new thing and chases it. He loves the universe voraciously and in his poems he shows this love and in his living room he pulls down books and shares and shows, because generosity is curiosity’s sibling, and Kurt and Laure-Anne are abundantly generous. “Have you seen this?” is a phrase I hear so often from Kurt: a book or an article or a poem or a place, Provence or the White Horse Tavern. He shows me so much. “You have to see this,” he says.

Some years ago, Kurt tells me that he and Laure-Anne have forgotten how old they are. Applying for travel documents, they have to check birthdates. They do the math, and they find out that they are two years older than they think they are. We laugh together at this elision. But this happens when you live now furiously, and through all adult responsibilities, travails, duties, loves, Kurt’s curiosity remains a boy’s with a stick and a lens and an empty field and a long summer day to explore it, bright stars in the night sky and all the swirling nebulae, and he keeps that curiosity even as he reminisces with old friends like Tom Lux in Atlanta after rib-eyes and a good red about Aspen or when he talks politics soberly and shakes his head at the wars and our mistakes or his own confessed, his “ruffian Connecticut youth” he calls it, or when he shows us the Haze house of Lolita fame in his Cambridge days or when he praises Laure-Anne’s putanesca—“You have to taste this,” he says, or tells me about a wine that he loves right now, asks what I’m drinking, or when he sends me books he loves by people like Richard Frost or Stephen Dobyns because he loves them and he must share that love, he must share that love because there is a universe out there and it will be his, because what joins us in quantum entanglement is something he has to know because it is connection, it is presence, and your extraordinary curiosity continues and we love you. You say, “Have you seen this?” And we must look at the book you are handing us just now, of new poems you love, of photos of atomic particle trails, or Walt’s Leaves of Grass, his notes in the margin, and we must look at what you show us today, and, because you show us today, we are luckier, we are luckier.

In his preface to Verse & Universe, Kurt says, “If science and art have anything in common it exists in the resources of the human brain and our ability to create something unforeseen and revolutionary out of our dreaming.” “Lorca and the Copenhagen School of Physics” continues Kurt’s lifelong project of finding what art and science share, as evidenced by his seminal poetry anthology Verse & Universe and his essay collection The Measured Word, as well as in his own poems. Kurt as a boy is a “wrong-headed narcissus” in Return of the Prodigals' “Another World,” so absorbed in watching trout swim that he misses his reflection, becomes nameless in looking. He explains our motivation to smash atoms in his recent collection Time-Bound‘s “Supercollider” by turning once again to a boy who knows that one has to smash a clam to see what’s inside: “It’s how we question everything. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.” Kurt shows us how science and art are both grounded in wanting to see more and to share it. As we have learned from Heisenberg and Bohr, we are observers, witnesses, and so we create the universe, kill the cat or wake it up from its black-box half-life. If Kurt chides Lorca for hyperbole in his famous statement that "only mystery allows us to live," Kurt knows that privileging mystery too often means merely refusing to look, leaving Schrödinger's tabby half-safe in the dark. Mystery revealed opens us to the “unforeseen” imbued even in “[t]he commonest thing,” suggesting that negative capability is not a way to let something inaccessibly out there in through a half-closed eye, but that we are already part, already complement, that our looking is making, that we need to open our eyes fully, and to share. For Kurt, looking and sharing are what allow us to live humanely. Kurt has always had the curiosity to look and the courage to share. “Take my hand,” he invites in “Lorca and the Copenhagen School of Physics.” And you have to take it. You have to look, too.

Lorca And The Copenhagen School Of Physics

No piece of paper can be folded in half
more than seven times. This may seem trivial
but isn't it as portentous and absolute as E=MC2?

I think Lorca was wrong. Mystery inheres in this world
as much as any other, and the laws of Nature
are not as tidy as we once assumed.

Consider Heisenberg and his mind-numbing principle,
as old now as your grandmother's shoes,
or Schrödinger's cat, which is both alive and dead
at the same time, according to the Copenhagen school.

I don't pretend to understand any of this,
and there are newer theories that make these
look quaint as science proliferates its enigmas.

Imagination can invent remarkable things,
but it could never have imagined this world.

Look closely at anything, and the clouds
of impossibility gather, the world wriggles free
of our grasp, Nature coyly accommodates the observer.
If this is true, then what is true? Lorca
never had to contemplate how light is both particle
and wave.

              What I know is as mysterious
and mundane as sitting across from you
here at a table under fruit trees on the first day
of fall. That such a thing is ordinary beggars
imagination; that we make light of it,
a mockery of the miraculous.
The commonest thing
coheres out of all time and space, which invests it
with a kind of grandeur we can't possibly comprehend.

Here. Take my hand. Tell me it isn't true.


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