BECAUSE THE LIGHT WILL NOT FORGIVE ME
Shaun T. Griffin, inductee into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, is known as much for his activism as for his award-winning poetry. It is his empathy for the community in which he lives in the high desert of Northern Nevada that expands into the community in which he travels; a community of the world, its landscapes, its flora and fauna, and especially its friends and fellow writers. Because the Light Will Not Forgive Me, Essays From A Poet, is a collection of essays to satisfy any reader with a taste for good writing, but especially those readers who love poetry and recognize the impact geography often has on its poets.
Snowwalking, the collection’s second essay, will give the reader a toehold of what lies ahead for those unfamiliar with Griffin’s understanding and acceptance of “. . . a memory of land before we touched it—of course, this is Paiute, Western Shoshone, and Washoe land.” He writes of friends in North and South America, Europe and as far away as Africa. His enduring care for and admiration of these friends makes up the landscape contained in this collection.
Where does the high desert poet go for inspiration? Not to Thoreau’s idyllic wooded retreat Walden Pond. Griffin’s retreat is an “emptiness and its foreboding unknowns.” He continues, “In a word, it is the supposed emptiness here that produces tension in my art. Whether isolation or contemplation, I never travel far from this physical experience of geography. I personally cannot, and so I have chosen to embrace its consequence—the poem as testimony to the riddle of this environment. A riddle I leave unsolved.” Those were the words that pulled me into Griffin’s landscape.
In chapter 7, he introduces us to the poet Joanne de Longchamps, a poet of Nevada’s Great Basin. She is also a poet I was unfamiliar with, and Griffin speaks of her and her poems, in ways both intimate and wonderfully instructive. This is the chapter when he hints of others who will cross his path; poets like Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin. The conundrum for many poets, fame or anonymity is an undercurrent felt throughout the book. When asked if living in Nevada was limiting, de Longchamps answer? “What I want is the feeling of being around people who sense and try to create or recreate this marvel of just being alive. . . .I don’t believe in all of this, the rewards of position and power. . . .No, I don’t think Nevada is a cop-out at all.”
The reader already knows that native Americans hold great interest for Griffin. I knew of Sherman Alexie’s writing but did not know of Alexie’s “prophet,” Adrian C. Louis. Griffin’s book rapidly became a roadmap for me. A chance to revisit poets I knew and an introduction to those I had never heard of, like Vassar Miller. Wherever Griffin travels, he seamlessly brings in the poets from those regions with a depth of understanding that does not limit them to the label regional. Some of the poets written about are studied and widely read today, but others, intentionally or not, have their light hidden under a literary bushel.
The poets themselves become landscapes as in Chapter 10, My Journey to Hayden Carruth. This “journey” culminated in the book, From Sorrow’s Well, the Poetry of Hayden Carruth, written and edited by Griffin. If readers are not familiar with Carruth’s poetry, it will not take them long before Griffin’s attachment to the man and his work will become their own.
Griffin is also celebrated as a poetry teacher inside Nevada state prisons. The essays cover the prisoners who learn almost as much from Griffin as he does from them. Anecdotally and from the prisoners’ work, we grow to understand the importance that poetry can play in the lives of those who both read and write it.
Because the Light Will Not Forgive Me is an intimately personal reflection by one poet on the people, the places, the books, and the mystery that is poetry. Because the Light Will Not Forgive Me removes the subject of poetry from the classroom and places it into the world in which it is written and into the hands of those for whom it is written. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Shaun T. Griffin: This is What the Desert Surrenders; Desert Wood; Bathing in the River of Ashes; Torn by Light (with Joanne De Longchamps); Woodsmoke, Wind, and the Peregrine; Razor Wire ’03, A Journal of Poetry, Prose, and Art (with Ismael Garcia Santillanes); Snowmelt; Death to Silence/Muerte Al Silencio (with Emma Sepulveda-Pulvirenti); , From Sorrow’s Well, the Poetry of Hayden Carruth.