Poem of the Week

Freedom From the Tyranny of the Right

Rachel Hadas finds new spaces by trying to switch from her right hand to her left, for art's sake.

Left and right hands coming together for a priestly blessing, in English. Medallion, mid-20th century, New York.
Vivian Eden

Left-Handed

Rachel Hadas

Writing left-handed led
to wanting to paint too
or wanting to paint instead.
There could no longer be
any doubt: I saw
how swiftly poems flew
from me (and still can fly)
so freely I forgot
what it was I said,
or rather what I wrote,
let alone what I meant
and whether it was true.
Let the left hand, then, write
and let the right hand paint?
More effort and less speed,
less spontaneity –
might these signify
more sincerity?
Left-handed, might I be
at one remove from my
pulse of sincerity?
More meaning, moving slow?
Color in place of line?
Ambidextrously
I reach for brush and pen.

Side-switching enthralls: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was once a registered Democrat, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton grew up in a Republican home, Likud  princess Tzipi Livni glided leftwards through a number of affiliations into a waltz with Labor, while Moshe Ya’alon leapt rightwards from Labor to Likud in a single bound and might be inching back again. In art, too, side-switching produces interesting results.

Side-switchers Moshe Ya’alon and Tzipi Livni in the Knesset, 2013.
Oren Nachshon

In an email, Hadas noted that this poem grew out of a meditative exercise in which participants were asked to write with their non-dominant hand . “I was terrible at this but found it was easier to draw than to write with my left hand,” she said.

Two insights emerge. First, switching hands made her want to do additional or different things. Why might this be so? Possibly because the non-dominant hand is less controlled and therefore freer and more innovative Secondly, writing had become too easy, too glib: “poems flew/ so freely I forgot /what it was I said,/or rather what I wrote,/ let alone what I meant/ and whether it was true.” Surely this can happen to politicians, too, when after years of spouting a party line something compels them to stop, look, listen and reconsider.

The poet wonders: No pain, no gain? Would deciding to switch hands produce both truer sincerity and a more critical view of her own work? Is deliberate slowness a virtue and could the writing become more vivid (“color”) than abstract (“line”)?

Spoken or written words are inevitably linear, and a challenge of poetry is to make the ideas seem to spread in all directions. The answer is that she will try everything: “Ambidextrously / I reach for brush and pen.” Perhaps both left and right will do it all.

Rachel Hadas, a professor of English at Rutgers University, Newark, is the author of many books of poems, essays and translations from French and both classical and modern Greek. She and her visual artist husband Shalom Gorewitz have been working on marrying poetry and video. 

*Bonus: (Ignore recording hiccups.) Patti Page sings “Left Right Out of Your Heart” *

Patti Page - Left Right Out Of Your Heart YouTube