But our reality, some blend of print and digital, material and immaterial

The more we use our screens, it seems, the more power we assign to books as objects, and to turning their literal pages as a timeless icon of languor. But our reality, some blend of print and digital, material and immaterial, is perhaps no less picturesque. On this beautiful summer morning, while finishing this piece, I was happily distracted by the Twitter feed of a poet named Jeremy Proehl, who, like the mad, poverty-stricken Romantic poet John Clare, inscribes his verse on birch bark. Clare, who also concocted his own ink out of “a mix of bruised nut galls, green copper, and stone blue soaked in a pint and a half of rain-water,” was after permanence, not planned transience: he would not recognize his art in the notion that Proehl’s own bark poems will “fade and break apart in the weather.”

The Internet has no weather, and these dissolving poems will be preserved in every state of decay. What part of my summer morning was “reading,” and what part of it was distraction? Once I put the period on this sentence, I’m headed outside with a copy of John Clare’s poetry, along with my phone, in case I need to look up some images of chaffinches, hedge roses, or whitethorn shrubs.

~ Dan Chiasson, from “Reader, I Googled It” in The New Yorker, August 26, 2019


Photo: Jeremy Proehl – “I write poems on birch bark and hang them in the woods. I call them prayer poems. As they fade and break apart in the weather, like prayer flags, I hope the thoughts of the poems travel on.

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