From the Desk of Robert Vivian: Be Willing to Get Carried Away

Robert Vivian is a professor of English and creative writing at Alma College in Michigan and teaches as a core faculty member in the low-residency MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is the author of four novels as well as two essay collections, Cold Snap as Yearning (Nebraska, 2005) and The Least Cricket of Evening (Nebraska, 2011), as well as a collection of dervish essays, Immortal Soft-Spoken. His latest collection of dervish essays is All I Feel Is Rivers (March 2020).

Be Willing to Get Carried Away

About ten years ago something strange, urgent, and newly born kicked in and over inside of me so deeply that I still have not recovered, though the truth is I don’t really want to recover, ever: the beautiful, odd convergence of recent trips to Turkey and immersion in the works of Mevlana (or Rumi as we call him in the states) under the tutelage of my dear friend Yavuz, manic bouts of fly fishing, and a new form of writing called the dervish essay ended up catapulting me into a different kind of writer altogether, the fruits of which eventually became All I Feel Is Rivers. Call it ecstasy and sorrow, call it a sudden desire to embrace everything around me—I still don’t know what to call it. But I could no longer—nor no longer wanted—to write the dark novels I had been writing up to this time; didn’t want to write on darkness at all unless it was somehow touched or grazed by some other beaming ray or wire light of tender hope. Somehow the mysterious alchemy of putting the words dervish and essay together led to an explosion of creative energy that prompted this artistic upheaval, which is changing even now so that I truly have no clue what is coming next.    

Sometimes in moments of deep wonder and surprise I ask myself if I’m experiencing a second childhood at the age of 52—if what Czeslaw Milosz once called sacramental moments (moments from childhood so radiant they can actually guide and inform your whole life) have come back boomerang style only more insistent and present than they were the first time. I can’t explain it any other way. We all know and are touched and scathed by so much mayhem, misunderstanding, and suffering in the world, so much suspicion and outright hostility in the bright, pellucid, almost blinding year of 2020. And yet these pieces, these dervish essays, have been welling up from some improbable spring whose source seems both inside of me and outside of me as well as in the shimmering of summer leaves, in a cold north wind blowing in February whose freshness literally take my breath away, in the colors of a dripping brook trout held briefly in my own wet hands before releasing it back into clean, flowing water. Clarice Lispector’s narrator in her marvelous novella Aqua Viva (I am an unofficial groupie of her fan club) says at one point that she’s inviting her readers to a new kingdom—and I feel the same way about the unlikely kingdom of an unlikely little book like All I Feel Is Rivers—that I, too, am inviting readers to a new kingdom, the kind of kingdom I have had the privilege to visit, play, and roam in more times than I deserve when I write and when I fish and when I laugh and spend time with the ones I love, especially my wife and best friend, Tina.

I have heard and read from a lot of other writers I admire that it’s really hard to write about joy or out of joy—and more and more I want to stand up on the nearest desk and with whatever dubious authority shout out from the tops of my lungs, No, it’s not, my friends! You just have to be willing to get carried away! And then I realize how silly, lame, and inadequate such an outburst would be (though I’ll believe it to the grave). The beautiful and utterly singular poet Mary Ruefle writes in her book Madness, Rack, And Honey that she’d rather wonder than know—and this line, better than any other I can think of, gets closest to the energy that wrote these dervish essays: the wondering word and phrase, the star-struck line and sentence, the chemical urgency rising up from within and the glory of not-knowing and the even greater glory of no longer needing to know. The wonderful people at Nebraska Press invited me to write this blog about All I Feel Is Rivers, and I realize now that the act of trying to write about where this book came from or even what it means is a hopelessly futile act, which makes me wildly and deviously happy: I can’t explain it (ditto). And whatever its eventual fate as a book, its impetus and headlong cause must be assured forever because it somehow came from eternity itself (thank the poet Edith Sodergran for this revelatory insight from her poem “Triumph Of Existing”); I was and am just a clumsy and devoted midwife who has loved the entire creative process and every living, breathing word that has come of it however obscurely they stumble, walk, or even fly in this heartbreaking and heart-making world.

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