I’m the sparrow on the roof
I’m the list of everyone I have to lose
I’m the rainbow in the dirt
I am who I was and how much I can hurt

So I will look for you
In stories of the kings—
Westward leading, still proceeding
To the world unseen

That’s the opening of  “The World Unseen” by Rosanne Cash (from The Essential Rosanne Cash). I don’t know if you know much about her. If not, you probably know her as the daughter as Johnny Cash and you might know her for her music. You might classify her as a country artist and classify country music as boozy, yeehaw shouting, foot stomping, corny lyrics music. I’m not a big fan of country music, but I am a fan of Rosanne Cash.

I have seen her perform live and also got to see her live in a conversation (rather than a concert) setting and she is much more of the poet, storyteller, thinker and artist in a very good and broad sense.

She has described her life as one “circumscribed by music” because of her family, but she is also quite interested in  language, art and quantum mechanics.

In an interview with Krista Tippett (On Being),  she said that like her father, she feels she is a mystic. She seeks creativity in mystical, musical and mathematical ways. It helps her deal with  love, grief and loss and she finds words and music there. Music is a medium – in both the MacLuhan and the mystical ways. On that program, she was called a “time traveler” because the past, present, and future are often linked in the songs she writes, and sometimes they are all occurring at once. And that idea recalls Albert Einstein’s notion that time is a “stubbornly persistent illusion” – one we are always banging up against in our attempts to break its bonds.

I got a copy of her book Composed: A Memoir which isn’t really a autobiography in the usual narrative, but rather a series of memories which begin to constellate into a whole.

She also has a book of fiction, Bodies of Water, and a children’s book, Penelope Jane, which is a “fairy’s tale” (not quite the same as a “fairy tale”).

I totally agree with her when she writes that “songs aren’t a diary, a blog or a therapy session. I’ve never had a fact-checker come in to go over my lyrics. I haven’t worked through all my childhood issues and achieved enlightenment through songwriting.”

Poetry these days often comes too close diary/blog/therapy. I have had the same situation with students that she seems to have when she teaches a songwriting workshop. You suggest a line or word change and the student says “But it didn’t happen that way.” Cash says that she will remind the student that “if they were bound to just the facts, they should consider science rather than art.”

Still, there is science in her art, even if it is “unseen,”  it is working in that way that forces act upon us unseen. In geometry, the circumscribed circle is one which passes through all the vertices of a polygon. If we define circumscribed as constricted, or defined by some boundary, then I would have to disagree with the word being used to describe her life. If anything, she exceeds the boundary that might have been set by being the child in a famous musical family. As in quantum mechanics, the electron’s motion around the nucleus of an atom is no “orbit” but a wonderfully hard to explain momentum.

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