Lawrence Raab & Scenarios Against the System

Lawrence Raab (Courtesy: williams.edu)

Lawrence Raab (Courtesy: williams.edu)

The poet Lawrence Raab lives in Williamstown, the northwesternmost municipality in Massachusetts, and since 1976 has taught at Williams College, a private liberal arts college, founded in 1793, and consistently ranked as one of the best colleges of its kind in the United States. The student to faculty ratio is an astounding 7:1. The college is also noted for its music programmes, which support symphonic, ensemble, choral, and African spheres of endeavour.

Raab’s work came to my attention through The Missouri Review. Five of his poems appear in Issue 37:3. These particular poems employ elliptical narrative that makes use of sudden paradox, sardonic antithesis, and moments of dialogue. “Believe us, [the rich] whisper. / What you can’t have you don’t need. / What you were never given you will never lose.”

In the video below, Raab, who reads very well, and with wit, propounds (a) that being a cannibal is preferable to being a crab, (2) that the rearrangement of molecules is a process of almost incredulous wonder, and (3) why the Odyssean Sirens abandoned song for a new gig.

Raab’s poem “Last Day on Earth” inspired cinematographer Sophia Youssef to create a visual exploration of it on film. Youssef, now associated with Reelzchannel in Los Angeles, shot the video on a Sony FS100, using only natural light, in January, 2013, when she worked in the greater Boston area. I find it a highly successful reinterpretation in another, but complementary, medium, an intermixture I find not only of aesthetic value but also exploratory in the best creative sense. The poem itself was published in 2012 in River Styx 88.

If it’s the title of a movie, you expect
everything to become important—a kiss,
a shrug, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog.

But if the day is real, life is only
as significant as yesterday—the kiss
hurried, the shrug forgotten, and now,

on the path by the river, you don’t notice
the sky darkening beyond the pines because
you’re imagining what you’ll say at dinner,

swirling the silky wine in your glass.
You don’t notice the birds growing silent
or the cold towers of clouds moving in

because you’re explaining how lovely
and cool it was in the woods. And the dog
had stopped limping!—she seemed

her old self again, sniffing the air and alert,
the way dogs are to whatever we can’t see.
And I was happy, you hear yourself saying,

because it felt as if I’d been allowed
to choose my last day on earth,
and this was the one I chose.

 

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