KR BlogReading

Memorial Day

/m????m??ri??l, -??mo??r-/ [muhmawr-ee-uhl, –mohr-]

1. something designed to preserve the memory of a person, event, etc., as a monument or a holiday.
2. a written statement of facts presented to a sovereign, a legislative body, etc., as the ground of, or expressed in the form of, a petition or remonstrance.

???adjective

3. preserving the memory of a person or thing; commemorative: memorial services.
4. of or pertaining to the memory.

I’ve been thinking today about the distance between the noun and adjective forms of the word memorial. In both cases, there’s the intention of preserving the memory of someone or something. I understand the desire to remember, to preserve what’s past; who doesn’t? But when it comes to the creation of monuments and institutions, how can the edifice hold anything of what was?

Last Monday my husband and I drove to Seattle for the 45th annual Theodore Roethke Memorial Reading, held, at least for the 10 or so years I’ve been going, in the same auditorium every year around Roethke’s birthday. It’s a strange feeling, coming back to that room, sitting among some configuration of the same group of friends and acquaintances. It starts to seem like the same warming evening, despite the fact that the readers this year were Brad Leithauser and Mary Jo Salter instead of Jorie Graham, Tomas Salamun, X.J. Kennedy, Adam Zagajewski…Charles Wright…Anthony Hecht…or any of the other Roethke readers who might flicker into memory while I wait for the reading to start. Despite the fact that Jonathan Crimmins’ son–whom I remember as a five-year-old two rows down passing the time with paper and crayons–has morphed into a ten-year-old with his nose in a novel.

It’s an institution, a monument of sorts, a noun-form-memorial that lives, moves, and breathes. The connection of its current life to Roethke, the poet or the man, or the individual or collective memory of him…who knows? The auditorium has pale wood paneling, and maybe it’s the slightly space age aesthetic of the room’s acoustic features, maybe something in the scale that lends the feeling that we’re sitting in the hull of some kind of ship, bound at once for the future and the past.