Intimacy and Isolation

The kind of circular vision of connectivity that Juliana Spahr presents in her poetry is one that I have only recently come realize and accept. Raised in a Christ-centered home and school, I learned to see humans as God’s treasured creation and Christians as set apart as the one’s who understood the truth of things. Additionally, I came to understand America as the most thoroughly Christian nation and therefore innately superior. This hierarchy of humanity has been ingrained in so many aspects of society; human form, religion, and nationality are only a few examples of the seeming endless ways we categorize and assert value judgments on ourselves and others. These judgments shape our beliefs and those beliefs allow us to distance ourselves from what is going on in the rest of the world because it doesn’t feel close to us, because in all honesty, we don’t really care about those people, or those animals, or those trees. Why would we? We care about us, and our beloveds.

Spahr confronts this disparity directly in her poem, juxtaposing the intimacy of the bedroom and the lovers to the isolation of their existence in that one room with those few people as the rest of the world goes up in flames. We can find and embrace connectivity in our beds with people who would otherwise be strangers, yet we cannot extend that acceptance to others. In one of my favorite passages, Spahr muses:

“Beloveds, we do not know how to live with any agency outside of our bed.

It makes me angry that how we live in our bed-full of connected loving and full of isolated sleep and dreaming also-has no relevance to the rest of the world.

How can the power of our combination of intimacy and isolation have so little power outside the space of our beds?”

This frustration is one of the eternal struggle of existence, the pull between feelings of intimacy and isolation and how to live in both states of reality. We spend our whole lives looking for connection when the truth is essentially and necessarily that we are alone. Yet, alone does not have to mean isolated. I think the whole point of Spahr writing and publishing these poems is to show that even our moments of most extreme intimacy and isolation, they can be related to and understood by others. Intimacy is not about exclusion, it is about inclusion and to misunderstand that is to do oneself a great disservice.

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