Or, Some Reflections Made upon Having Translated a Blog Post into a Persona Poem
For various reasons I haven’t written much poetry lately. I’ve written a lot about poetry, but not much poetry. Because of this, I was excited the other day when I felt a poem welling up as I read Margaret Young’s meditation, “My Prayer upon Opening the Internet,” which she posted on The Welcome Table, her blog at Patheos. Margaret’s been catching flak since she posted some thoughts on the Ordain Women movement and I can only imagine what effect the sometimes vitriolic response has had on her soul. From what I know of her, she’s a very empathetic person, something that I’m sure has been magnified and made raw by her father’s failing health, especially as she walks with him his path through the valley of the shadow of death. I sense this desire to understand and to connect with others in “Prayer.”
I also sensed her post’s potential to be a poem. One of the first things that struck me about it was its lyric language. Another was the voice it called forth in my head: a preacher praying. More specifically, it evoked something like the speech patterns of the Mandarin from Iron Man 3. Taking these things into account, I copied the text of the post into a Word document and began reworking Margaret’s prose into a poem. My remix appears below. You’ll notice that much of her language remains, but I’ve also taken some poetic license, adding (among other things) a method of address I’ve heard in many evangelical prayers (the repetition of “Lord” as a means of emphasizing certain phrases and emotions), eliding some statements to make the prayer more general and generalizable, and adding a few ideas to bear Margaret’s imagery and metaphors out, especially in terms of the language and conceit of social networking that I felt trying to come to the surface of the original post.
Rather than just presenting the poem as text alone, I wanted to perform it; so I slipped into my preacherly persona and recorded what came out. It took many takes before I had something I liked and that approximated the voice in my head. I’m not sure how successful I was in capturing the evangelical speech pattern, but I attempted it nevertheless and felt quite liberated in the process. This may have been so because the pattern of preaching and praying that Mormons seem to favor is far more reserved than other praying/preaching patterns and to break from it, even for a few moments, was to experience the language of communion differently. And I liked that experience. I wonder if it has the same effect on others. You’ll have to let me know.
Anyway. Here’s the text and my performance of the poem. I hope it represents Margaret well.
My Prayer, upon Having Opened an Internet Browser
Lord, I’m about to enter the world-wide web, where good people use
fake names and say awful things. As I open the browser, bless me, Lord.
Let me not be taken in by any trolls. Erase my fantasies of hacking
their email and spamming their contacts with messages about losing weight
by eating only raspberries while holding a sanctified piece of granite.
Bless me, Lord, to recognize the trolls and to refrain from feeding them.
Help me to recognize, Lord, that insults come from feelings of betrayal or
need and help me to respond with kindness. Better yet, Lord, give me strength
to not respond at all. Teach me to modify my snap judgments like so:
When I think, “You’re clearly an idiot,” help me say, “We may not
be understanding each other.” When I think, “You have no idea
what you’re talking about,” help me say, “You’ve got interesting ideas.”
When I think, “Do you realize who I am?” help me say, “Thank you
for your efforts to explain this.” When I think, “You’re giving this issue
undeserved attention,” help me, Lord, to say, “I appreciate your passion.”
Lord, when I fall into the trap of mean exchanges, extricate me
with reminders of charity. Help me, Lord, to be long suffering and not
to wish long suffering on my enemies—or on my friends. Better yet, Lord,
help me through long-suffering to make my enemies friends and to keep
my friends. Help me to answer rudeness, Lord, with kind thoughts and words
and not with wishes that particularized tornadoes will visit particular homes.
Help me to take ad hominem attacks with a good spirit and let me remember
that if I absorb others’ spite, Lord, they may spare a spouse or a child
or a neighbor or a pet what abuse they directed at me.
Remind me, Lord,
that there are real people behind these avatars and let me never permanently
disregard anyone who has responded insensitively to my words, but
teach me compassion that I might mourn with them in their moments of need.
Above all, Lord, help me remember to offer this prayer every time I open
the browser that opens me to the temptations of communication ex machina.