On the Gerasene Writer’s Conference

Along with the opposable thumb, language is often mentioned as the defining feature of humanity. There’s more and more debate about this now (not so much on the opposable thumb, for some reason), but I’ll stand by it. I’d also claim that poetry is the defining feature of language, although the likes of Joseph Brodsky have already declaimed this much better than I can.

“Language and, presumably, literature are things that are more ancient and inevitable, more durable than any form of social organization”

And elsewhere:

“We should understand Dostoyevsky’s remark that beauty will save the world, or Matthew Arnold’s belief that we shall be saved by poetry. It is probably too late for the world, but for the individual man there always remains a chance. . . . If what distinguishes us from other members of the animal kingdom is speech, then literature—and poetry, in particular, being the highest form of locution—is, to put it bluntly, the goal of our species.”

Ipsa ergo, the defining feature of such organizations on the web is their ability to provide a home for poetry. One need look no further than the Gerasene Writer’s Conference . In the spirit of physician and poet Thomas Campion, the site offers a kind of herbal medicine so badly needed in this world governed by legions of daily porn updates and the squalor of Times Square, circa 1978.

And now consider the Campion poem, Cherry-Ripe:

There is a garden in her face
Where roses and white lilies blow;
A heavenly paradise is that place,
Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow:
There cherries grow which none may buy
Till ‘Cherry-ripe’ themselves do cry.

Those cherries fairly do enclose
Of orient pearl a double row,
Which when her lovely laughter shows,
They look like rose-buds fill’d with snow;
Yet them nor peer nor prince can buy
Till ‘Cherry-ripe’ themselves do cry.

Her eyes like angels watch them still;
Her brows like bended bows do stand,
Threat’ning with piercing frowns to kill
All that attempt with eye or hand
Those sacred cherries to come nigh,
Till ‘Cherry-ripe’ themselves do cry.

And then the latest in a series at Gerasene:

Hazel, branch of God’s chosen, splits and bends,
A forked crotch with folksy water-wisdom:
Zigzags not lost, but leashed to loosened hands,
Engaging water-divining baptism –
Lost beneath the sands that first parched Adam.
Holly breaks out there, though; the barren lands
Offering greens and reds to Jerusalem –
Likely emblems: what life wants, blood demands.
Yahweh spies such wizened blood in Abram:
Heath and hands awaiting plow and hoe, his seed’s
Event becomes the first steps of faith from
A place called Ur, the fatherland of gods,
To further fields. There, ripening Canaan plants
His hopes like roots; his veins with vines’ descendants.

Fine descendants indeed. Go to Gerasene to be soothed and healed, and to have your senses put in order.


  1. Anonymous says

    The problem with poetry is that not everybody can understand it. Perhaps music is a finer form of communication, although I enjoy poetry more than I used to. Thanks for posting.

  2. Jonathan Webb says

    Lovely, thanks.

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