I’m not sure if I’m alone in this opinion, but Swarthmore’s Ville is a liminal space. Once you cross the train tracks, there’s a sense of light disorientation that I typically associate with ending up at a Target right before it’s closing, or pulling into a Waffle House. The laws of reality seem to be bent very slightly in these places. In the Ville’s case you begin to notice things like the sheer number of kids on bikes that spawn at the same point every two hours, the window display of the hardware shop, or Renato in general. These phenomena often require multiple viewings to actually be noticed, as was the case for me last Friday afternoon. Working in a packed Hobbs, I found myself wedged in a seat opposite of a man looking like he came packaged with a coffee shop. The man across from me had long blond hair, the byronic flair, the leather journal, and the only thing that I couldn’t pin down about his aesthetic was whether he was furiously writing poetry or prose in that notebook. However, I’d mostly forgotten about this interesting encounter by the time I made it into the Swarthmore Inn’s Sycamore room that evening. The Inn was hosting philosopher and poet Luke Fischer for a reading from his collection Paths of Flight.
As the audience settled in, however, I noticed the same face from Hobbs seated behind me by the time Swarthmore’s Professor of Philosophy Richard Eldridge got up to introduce the poet. There was a palpable sense of admiration as Eldridge listed out Fischer’s accomplishments which ranged from his success at the University of Sydney where he earned his doctorate to the many prizes and commendations his poetry had received. He also was sure to pepper his introduction with more than a few more personal accounts of the friendship the two had cultivated since the uncertain date of their meeting at a colloquium for German philosophy.
“It’s my pleasure to introduce, Luke Fischer. Although many of you know him already,” he said motioning toward the man behind me whom I had recognized from Hobbs.
Taking his place at the front of the room, Fischer began to explain his particular interests and how they filtered down into his poetry.
“I’m going to try to speak about the relationship between philosophy and poetry. I find these two pursuits inform one another. There’s kind of an internal quarrel between poetry and philosophy that I hope I’ll be able to shed some light on tonight,” Fischer said, opening up his first book of poems.
He explained that the phenomenon of nature seemed to stir his imagination particularly, so he chose to begin with a poem titled “Turtles,” Fischer then submerged his audience into his vision of a tropical waterfront scattered with cathedrals of “arched palm fronds.”
He describes the titular reptilian as a “lacquered dome” that is seemingly another outcropping of the landscape. Fischer muses about the turtles’ own experience with time and whether its “veins of lava” and “external scaffolding” were the result of a life of ease or an acute trauma.
Fischer’s next selection marked his progression into poetry more concerned with the aforementioned “humanness.” In “Walking Instructions,” Fischer placed his audience on another island, named Samothrace, that was marked long ago by the hands of ancient Greeks. Fischer weaved in his reading of Seneca into the talk, and dedicated it to his friend and fellow philosopher David Macauley.
“I hope this will fit into what I mentioned earlier about how humanities influences our perception of the natural world.”
Fischer set up a scene that tapped into the ritualized world of the ancients, imploring the reader to “break these instructions or read them then toss them in the fire.” The poetic walk he guides his readers through includes dreamlike visions of nameless trees and long-tailed sheep, and slowly descends into a naturalized version of the mystery cults of Greece. A rhythm of water on stone replaces the cultic drums, and the holy scripts are replaced by the shapes traced by streams. By the poem’s conclusion, the Sycamore room itself seemed to melt into a ritualized space of the same caliber as his poem. It was hard to feel grounded to one’s seat while Fischer’s airy voice lured the audience into imagining the tranquil worlds of his poetry. And at certain moments during his recital of memories of time spent on the Greek Isles one could almost feel the room detaching from the world outside as if Fischer’s voice had willed it to float through a more poetic plane of being.
At other times, there were near whispers of the ancient poets he was touching upon with his work. Whispers of the original greek, epea pteroenta, were stitched into the air just behind him as he read his poem “Augury,” which stirred an image of traversing ancient goat paths. When the reading had concluded, I wondered if I was the only one who felt as if they had to nudge themselves back into the real world.