friday roundup: real mail, more mud and glass, and your brain on metaphors

public domain from wikimedia commons:

Happy Friday, reader. Time for another roundup.

real mail Earlier this week, my fellow poet-blogger Drew posted about A Month of Letters. There is a movement circulating the internet that invites people to write one letter a day for each mail day of February (Sundays don’t count because there’s no mail that day). I, for one, love real mail. Coincidentally, I have mailed a real letter every day this month so far. However, I’m not going to join the challenge — anything beyond committing to brushing my teeth, drinking coffee, and feeding my young is too much for me right now — but I thought I’d post the link here for those of you who might want to join up. Visit Mary Robinette Kowal’s website, A Month of Letters, to find out more.

And if you’re not the letter-writing type but you want to receive some real mail in your mailbox, have I got a deal for you! Some of you know that I put together an occasional handout full of poems I love, or that make me think, or that make me want to write another poem (you can read more about The Handout at this post on my old blog). I’m working on the next installment of The Handout and it should go in the mail next week. If you’d like to have some poems show up in your mailbox, send your name and address to me at mollycspencer (at) gmail (dot) com. This is my way of spreading poetry — I love to do it and the stamp’s on me. As the post card above says: for you my darling.

more mud and glass  We had a great discussion earlier this week about clarity in poetry — too much, too little, or just right. Thank you to everyone who joined the discussion in the comments and via e-mail. I was especially thrilled to hear from my friend, Ms. W-K’s, high-school creative writing class! If you haven’t already, check back in the comments to read their thoughtful responses to the issue of clarity in poetry. And, for Ms. W-K’s class (and everyone else), here’s an example of a poem that I think strikes a lovely balance between mystery and clarity. It’s called The Good Wife by Alison Elrod. Go on ahead and read it; I’ll wait.

Okay? So, here’s what I love about this poem: We know enough to grab onto: there’s a wife; she might be trying to be a “good” wife; she’s in a domestic setting that she finds pleasing (“she walked through her quiet house / admiring its lovely bones. / She loved the light / that filled the place, / the view from every window.”  ) and yet, perhaps overwhelming or at least repetitive (“…she  made herself / small — watched the paper dragon / hanging by a thread above her, watched / it turn and turn in endless circles.”); she has made a decision, an important decision; there seems to be both resignation and comfort in its aftermath (“Later, / she folded shirts / and started dinner.”).

And here’s what we don’t know: We don’t know what decision she made. To file for divorce? To stay married? To end a pregnancy? To keep the baby? To confront her husband about cheating? We don’t know, and that gives us some room to imagine, and to remember those big decisions from our own lives, how breathtaking they can be. We don’t know what the house feels like when the rest of the family is present. We don’t know if it’s a decision to be shared with them or not (kind of feels like not to me, though). We don’t know what this decision will cost her or gain for her; we just know she made it. So, for me, all that we don’t know gives me room to get inside the poem and consider a wide range of possibilities, and to see the poem through the lens of 100 lives instead of just one.

Ms. W-K’s class, let us know: does the balance of clarity and mystery in this poem please you or confound you? What’s your poem for the day you knew for sure?

And by the way, “The Good Wife” appeared in Cave Wall Winter/Spring 2011, Number 9. You can learn more about the poet Alison Elrod here.

your brain on metaphors  Did you know that when you hear a metaphor your brain lights up? I didn’t either until I read this article which explains recent research on how the brain processes metaphor. In part, the article says: “investigators discovered a region of the brain important for sensing texture through touch, the parietal operculum, is activated when someone listens to a sentence with a textural metaphor. The same region is not activated when a similar sentence expressing the meaning of the metaphor is heard.” Poets take heed: The scientists involved in the study found that “On average, response to a sentence containing a metaphor took slightly longer (0.84 vs 0.63 seconds).” Still, pretty cool that language can trigger not just the auditory but the sensory for us. I was also interested to read that “complex processes involving symbols, such as appreciating a painting or understanding a metaphor, do not depend just on evolutionarily new parts of the brain, but also on adaptations of older parts of the brain.” We humans have been poets and artists for eons, I guess.

Ok, Reader, this is the longest post ever! Forgive me, I didn’t mean to take up so much of your time. Happy Friday, happy weekend, happy reading, writing, and whatever else you love to do.

4 thoughts on “friday roundup: real mail, more mud and glass, and your brain on metaphors

    • Yes, I really loved reading their responses, too. Go easy on your brain :). Really, though, I thought that tidbit about metaphors taking a bit longer to process might be helpful when working on the pacing of a poem.

  1. I’m in WK’s Creative Writing and Reading class, and this is my ‘Know for Sure’ Poem.
    It’s called—-Choice

    On the day she knew for sure
    She walked into the white walled hospital
    wishing she knew if everything was okay.
    She hated the suspense
    if it would live or die
    she knows she must end it all
    if she wishes to have him still
    the problems of a Mom, goes on every single day.
    She feels her small stomach
    choking on her tears, the lump in her throat gets bigger
    and shes wishing he were here, to comfort both of them.
    She can’t believe he’d want to end it
    the life he created inside of her
    she knows she must end it all
    if she wishes to have him still.
    But at what price must she pay?
    The sacrafice is too big and grand
    if only her Mother were here,
    she may be able to say no, if Mother held her hand
    The doctor comes in, bloody from before
    Are you ready? He asks her, looking away
    She holds her breath and lets go, the air forming the word ‘no’
    As she stomps out of that horrid place,
    she knows she did the right thing
    in taking her baby and leaving, guilt free

    ———————————————————————(another student’s poem)————-
    On the day I knew for sure
    I slinked into my garden.
    I waited to be filled
    by noises I’d miss.
    The hen’s cry the
    willows whispering tales.

    My bare arm hovered over the notebook.
    I shouted to my mind
    all the reasons ‘why not’.
    I whispered to my heart
    all the reasons ‘why’.
    The rock I sat on was not unlike stone in my gut
    and it assured me.

    I burned those lists.
    I made you breakfast.
    I blinked the ashes from my eye, while
    you nodded in our solidarity
    of knowing.
    ~Anna Grace

    • Hey, young poets, thanks for sharing your work! Some great moments in these poems. My favorites: in the first poem “The doctor comes in, bloody from before”; and in the second: “The hen’s cry the / willows whispering tales.” Both say a whole lot in very few words. Write on!

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