Etymological Wisdom by Carolyn Masel

I am honoured and humbled to be awarded Second Prize in the 2021 ACU Prize for Poetry, this major award in the Australian poetry calendar that is anticipated with relish every year. I would like to thank Fr Anthony Casamento csma, the Office of the Vice President for the provision of this Prize in support of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, and to Carmel Yahl and her staff for administering it. It has been pleasing to see it grow year on year: in 2021, we are told, it has attracted over 700 entries. Many thanks to the shortlist judges, Professor Hillel OAM and Professor Carver, for their careful attention to all of those poems and to the final judge, M. T. C. Cronin, for assessing the seventy-five shortlisted poems. We are grateful to you for your time and effort in choosing the winners and to those who have worked to assemble the anthology. I look forward to the Prize growing from strength to strength in years to come; but I also want to say how particularly important this Prize is this year – when now, in the foreground, there is the recent reconquest of Afghanistan by the Taliban, and in the background, barely, the pandemic. It has also been dark time for the arts in Australia – for theatre, music, film, visual arts and literature. My inbox is full of cancellations, including many Melbourne Writers Festival events. The topic of “Resilience”, encompassing compassion and discipline, is a critical response to this difficult time, and the existence of the Prize itself is a  beacon of hope. Thousands of Australian artists continue to do what we do – because the arts are needed; poetry is needed. And in Melbourne, where I live on unceded Wurundjeri land, poets can still read and hear one another during and between lockdowns. Last year I chose to retire early in order to devote more time to working on poetry. Receiving this Award has been immensely encouraging.

Etymological Wisdom

resilience (n.) from Latin resiliens “rebound, recoil,” see salient (adj.) from salire “to jump, leap”. Cf. result (v.). Resilience meaning “elasticity” dates from 1824

consilience (n.) 1840, “concurrence, coincidence,” literally “a jumping together,” formed on model of resilience. The agreement of two or more inductions drawn from different sets of data. 

It was almost ten years
I had about ten seconds’
    past and present you: pictures side by side
    not so much Hamlet’s dad and Claudius
    as a strange fault in my focus, one of you in each eye.
Then I just had present you.
Sooner or later you would look up and see me
perhaps twice. I didn’t know what to do
but recoil is deeply instinctual
so I turned on my heel and left
   before you saw me, any version, with any luck –
   though one can’t check while scarpering.

“He/she/they doesn’t love you:
   s/t/he/y are on the rebound.”
Folk wisdom dictates that the rebound is to be avoided
to avert emotional damage to or by a following suitor.
Whether it’s true, I’m not sure. I suspect
it’s not a matter of time but circumstance.
Possible adverse conditions include:
   past templates insufficiently scuffed out;
   measuring the present you s/t/he/y have to deal with
      against the great grief of losing The One;
   or great relief at same
      against the slightest whiff of similarity
      of the new one to the old.
In better circumstances a rebounding might be just the thing.
Indeed, why not consilience? A jumping together, in mutual joy?

Each consilience has its context, there’s the rub!1
Take the time I went hopefully to the house
of the very shy man to discuss our homework,
which was the Closet Scene in Hamlet.
In the pin-quiet living room
under the endless climactic whooping bedroom above us,
I heard myself as Gertrude read, “Ay me, what act,
   That roars so loud, and thunders in the index?”2
I cannot think of many scenes
more unhappily convergent.

There are many such experiences
whose contribution to the getting of wisdom3
remains elusive. But these, too, we must
acknowledge, laugh or weep about, if only
because unexamined scenes are the ones
likely to deliver lethal psychic wounds.
That which we don’t acknowledge, we deny;
denial is effacement: death, full
or partial. But the fully flexible self,
warmed by memories we no longer fear,
having transformed trauma into fuel,
embarrassment into comic stories,
is known by its paradoxical name, resilience.

1 Hamlet, Act III, Scene i
2 Hamlet, Act III, Scene iv
3 Proverbs, 4:7

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