friday roundup: learning new seasons, perspectives on line, and The Smoke

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Reader, have you been watching or listening to the debates? I have not. The reason is that I get too wrapped up in emotion while watching and then I can’t sleep at night because I’m trying to solve all the world’s problems in my head — the first of which is that elections have become show business purchased by rich people. I’ve tried to tune in on the radio, but after a few minutes, I always reach the point where I can’t stand listening to one more word. Also, the pundits providing the play-by-play always seem to mention the 2000 election, over which I’m still nursing my broken heart. Actually, I’m not over the 2004 election yet either. Oh, dear. I think we’d better move on to poetry… and some other stuff, before I get mired.

learning new seasons  Yesterday it was cool and cloudy all day, and it even rained a bit. Today, cool and cloudy again. Just like last year, I’m wondering: Is this autumn? Having moved away from a place where the four seasons are strikingly different, I find it harder to know what season we’re in. I’ve also noticed that I have a hard time placing my memories on my mental map of a year. Before our move, I could call up an image of a memory and find cues about the season — I was wearing boots and I remember having to shovel to get out of the driveway, or, it was so humid my hair curled (believe me, it takes a lot of humidity to get my hair to curl). Then in was easier to place the memory on the calendar. Without as many seasonal cues, it’s harder for me to remember when something happened: It was sunny. For 320 days. Even remembering what fruit was in season (another one of my favorite clues) doesn’t help because the seasons are all different out here, and some fruits have two growing seasons. I’m curious about what, if any, mental map of a year will emerge for me in California.

I’ve also been thinking about the seasons of a writing life. Last year at this time, I was busy drafting the Mail Order Bride poems. I remember that those drafts came to me slowly, word by word, under a title that had arrived whole. As the Mail Order Bride poems rushed out of my pen, I really set all other writing work aside in order to work on those poems. Part of me thinks doing so is a natural response to the energies present in the moment; other parts of me feel like: No! You have to keep doing the other stuff, too — reading, revising, submitting! Lately, it’s been revising that seems most urgent, but I’m afraid to leave off  generating new work. How do you think of the seasons of your creative life, and how do you respond to the different intensities of one creative activity or another? I’m curious to know.

perspectives on line  My Monday writing group recently read and discussed the essay “Line and Room” by Marianne Boruch from her essay collection In the Blue Pharmacy. Can I just say I LOVE having people to discuss such things with!? Anyway, in keeping with our theme of gem-hunting this week, I thought I’d share a few gems from the essay:

  • The word line comes from the Latin, linea, meaning ‘linen.’
  • She quotes Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren: a sentence is a unit of sense but the line is a unit of attention.” The Mondays and I agreed that society values sense, and art values attention.
  • “Line (is) a still, then, against life’s dizzying momentum which, at heart, is the lyric impulse anyway, to stop time… .”
  • She compares end-stopped lines to DC electricity, and enjambment to AC.
  • The enjambed line “moves in two directions, relentlessly across then cutting down to surprise or deflect or underscore” (bonus craft tip in those last six words: three reasons to use enjambment).
  • She discusses the important of the silence and space at the end of the line, which she likens to a moment of taking back for an instant what was just said.
  • She quotes Nicolaides, who says something along the lines of: there are no lines; there is only “the place where the figure ceases.”

That last one is my favorite. Anyway, it’s a great essay — I don’t think it’s available online, couldn’t find it anywhere or else I’d link to it. I’m looking forward to reading more of the essays in Boruch’s collection.

The Smoke  Last night at my other writing group — the one where we workshop poems — I brought a poem about fire. Well, it was kind of about fire, and also about motherhood, as we all know those subjects go hand in hand (ha, ha). One of the other poets brought me a poem about fire to read — a chance to consider another poet’s way of writing about it. So, yeah, I read the poem this morning and decided to retract forever my own poem about fire. Never mind. I didn’t mean it. There’s no reason for me to do this because it’s already been done. WAY better than I could ever do it. Looked for the poem online to link to here and, whaddayaknow, it was published by Linebreak. Have I mentioned how much I love Linebreak? Anyway, the poem is called “The Smoke” by Bruce Snider, from his most recent collection Paradise, Indiana, which I have not read but have heard is stellar. Go read the poem here — you’ll be shocked and enraptured by all the things the smoke did.

Happy Friday, and thanks as always for reading!

10 thoughts on “friday roundup: learning new seasons, perspectives on line, and The Smoke

  1. Molly, I have loved these craft bits and gems you’ve been scattering across the week’s blog posts, so thank you! And “linen”? Really?! Having just taught a one-off workshop about line ends, I wish I’d read the Boruch essay first–to deflect or underscore–I love it.

    One more thing: you may NOT retract your fire poem! You may not! Yes, Snider’s poem is stunning–“filling the dead machines,” “the way a body is lifted/ smoking from the grass”–wow. Wow. But the world needs your poem, which is also about motherhood. I’m sure of it.

    Thanks again and have a wonderful Friday!

    • Aw, Sally, thanks. Maybe the motherhood angle will let me keep my fire poem after all :). I’ve put it in the Resting Drawer for a while…. then we’ll see.

  2. Oh molly, that poem! the smoke. it flattens me.

    listen, i need some help. names of books. Pete has ongoing conflict with elliana, power struggles. she is and always has been assertive, a push-back kind of girl. ( i remember her disagreeing with him as a baby.) she’s nothing like pete!! as far as i know. but what do i know? anyway, i’d like to find something readable and good about avoiding conflict.

    i’m loving your blog. ride on, poet.



    • Thanks, A! Yes, it flattened me, too, or perhaps it liquefied me and I melted onto my desk and slipped my fire poem into a drawer maybe forever. Sent you an e-mail about books for Pete — thanks for reading.

  3. Well, having lived in Los Angeles all of my life, I certainly relate to the feeling of time passing and becoming one big blur. I’ve wished I could live somewhere where there were actual seasons ever since I can remember. My problem is that I really don’t want to have anything to do with snow. At least in Northern California the leaves on the trees change. It’s cooler here now, but unless it’s raining or there is some dramatic thunderstorm, it’s pretty much a litany of days made up of either “grey” or “sunny”. This becomes really depressing for me. Every Autumn when I see pictures of “actual Autumns” I have a visceral reaction. I get very homesick for something that can’t be pinpointed. It’s kind of strange and sad. My writing seems to be without seasons as well. If I do mention something about weather, it’s just what the weather happened to be that day– no distinction of season.( humid, dry, sweltering, grey, rainy etc) Tying it to a holiday helps, but doesn’t always match up with traditional images. Christmas day is always warm and sunny. Halloween is always slightly cooler and windy. The part of the Valley I live in gets extremely windy in January-March, but the days could either be warm or cool. There is this uneasy feeling that nothing changes– of being stuck. Most of my writing relies on other, more internal cues, and maybe this is why.

    Okay, that was long. Thanks for making me think, though! 🙂

    I’m going to read the poem on Linebreak now ( yes, I love Linebreak too and am so impressed you are on there) but don’t think that just because someone else wrote something that you consider “better” that yours has no value. 😉

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