The Poetics of Pooh: On the Urge to Unsee and the Act of Imagining

June 10, 2014 § 9 Comments


A guest post from Andrew Panebianco, on the act of imagining:

433I don’t have time to get into the entirety of Pooh with you. Even if I were able to.

Because as you probably know, Pooh has his own Tao, now.

So let’s leave it here—there’s an immensity to Pooh. There’s a touch of eternity to all his bumbling; a bottomlessness to his most rumbly of tumblies.

There’s a stare into the open eye until the closed eyes open kind of Zen to Pooh.

He’s got Pooh-dist leanings, you could say.

I want to talk about everything that makes Pooh, Pooh. But I don’t even understand it all. So instead I’ll focus on a single point—my very favorite moment, from my very favorite character, from my very favorite story from the entire World of Pooh.

Which is my very favorite.

*

Here’s how it starts:

Christopher Robin has sent Pooh off to gather the provisions they’ll require for a hastily-planned expedition to the North Pole. Neither Pooh nor Christopher Robin is really sure what the North Pole is, per se—merely that it’s a thing that exists to be sought out.

There’s a strange pull to it, perhaps. Magnetic and invisible.

Pooh tromps merrily through the Hundred Acre Wood and comes across Rabbit, who—characteristically—would much rather have never been come across in the first place.

“Hallo Rabbit,” says Pooh, “is that you?”

“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” says Rabbit, “and see what happens.”

“I’ve got a message for you.”

“I’ll give it to him.”

“We’re all going on an… an Expotition with Christopher Robin!”

“What is it when we’re on it?”

“A sort of boat, I think,” says Pooh.

“Oh! That sort.”

“Yes. And we’re going to discover a Pole or something. Or was it a Mole? Anyhow we’re going to discover it.”

“We are, are we?” said Rabbit.

“Yes. And we’ve got to bring Pro-things to eat with us. In case we want to eat them. Now I’m going down to Piglet’s. Tell Kanga, will you?”

Now, if I had the time, I could with spasms of delight tell you of just how happy this scene makes me. I would love to do this. But I have no time.

So instead I’ll point out the immense side to this scene.

How, for all its acidity and dark comedy, it manages to house one of the purest, most wonderful, most beautiful, most honest phrases about what it is to be, to exist, and to imagine that I’ve ever read.

“Hallo Rabbit,” says Pooh, “is that you?”

“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” says Rabbit, “and see what happens.”

If I believed in literary tattoos, this would be my tattoo.

“Let’s pretend it isn’t, and see what happens.”

Has there ever been a more elegant description of the act of imagining? Of the creative impulse? Of the urge to unsee what you’re looking at, and to look for what it is you want to see?

In a single spendthrift phrase, Rabbit captures the delight and abandon and valiant, deliberate choice of what it is to imagine.

*

I think about this story a lot.

About Pooh and how he wanders through the Hundred Acre Wood looking for something he can barely describe.

And I think of Rabbit, and how, with one tiny utterance, he defines the very thesis of daydreaming.

I think of how, according to this story, to imagine and to live are, in their truest sense, an adventure. An expedition.

And then I think of how often I forget that fact.

How I’ve grown old enough to fret over adult things. About my growing waistline. And my wasting hairline. And how I’m not exactly doing the thing I want to be doing… and how isn’t that always the way? And how unlucky am I? And oh bother… why bother?

And suddenly everything turns dark and grim.

Even creativity—even writing—becomes this winding bumble toward some hazy, unknown pole. A journey for which I feel woefully, almost comically underprepared. How I’ve got nothing to say. And how I’ll never write a thing to be proud of.

And every hope and excitement becomes rank and heavy like a blackbird on my shoulder.

And then, I think… this is what it means to be a writer.

So let’s pretend it isn’t. And see what happens.

Andrew Panebianco is a writer, teacher and storyteller in Philadelphia. He received his MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles in 2009, and his work has appeared with The Nervous Breakdown, Avenue, and the Kelly Writers House. He is the author of over 200 invented definitions, and is currently working on a dictionary. Learn more at wordsthatarent.com and @wordsthatarent.

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