Hello, Reader, and happy Friday. When I was thinking about this morning’s roundup I had a little conversation with myself:
Me: What did I read this week?
Me: Did you read this week?
Me: I think I read this week. I generally do read every week, all week.
Me (doubtfully): I don’t remember what you read this week. I’m not even sure you did read this week.
Me (desperately): I must’ve read this week.
Me: Suit yourself.
The only way to know for sure was to unpile the piles on my desk and see if there was any reading material therein. And, Reader, yes — I did read this week! I read from Wingbeats in the allergy clinic waiting area, and I read a recently-discovered poetry anthology during swim practice.
Whew, what a relief to have some roundup material after all :). Here we go:
those high, wide walls I wrote about Wingbeats, a fantastic book of poetry prompts and practices, here. All spring I’ve slowly read my way through the book, penciling stars next to the prompts and practices that strike me as particularly promising (many, many stars!). Yesterday I read from Patricia Smith‘s prompt, “Dressing,” which is designed to help a writer tackle difficult material. Here are a few excerpts that I found particularly interesting:
“Whenever I write, I always envision myself writing toward a wall. Sometimes the wall is formidable, utterly imposing, with a height, breadth and depth I can’t fathom. Sometimes it’s hardly a wall at all — it’s fluttering and practically transparent, looking as if I could simply poke a finger through to let light tumble in from the other side.”
“The walls that appear impenetrable present the greatest challenge. I see myself getting closer and closer to them as I write. Often I turn back after I’ve barely glanced the impossibility of the wall. Other times, some combination of verb and noun, hard and whispered rhyme, pushes me right up to the iron chill of the barrier.”
“On the other side of these high, wide walls, poems live. I have no doubt that they’re the best poems I’ve never written.”
She goes on to propose an exercise to “trick” oneself into the space beyond the walls. As someone who uses all kinds of “tricks” to get myself into a poem, this really resonated for me. I also like this idea of writing toward a wall and thinking about somehow getting past it, which makes me think of…
Legitimate Dangers Yesterday was minimum day (the weekly half-day of school), and in the afternoon the kids and I went to the library. I brought with me a list of one zillion books I wanted to check out, but was pretty sure the library wouldn’t have. I planned to request them through the semi-secret super-duper library nerd lending program. Imagine my delight when my very own hometown library had upon its shelf, in section 811, Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (Michael Dumanis and Cate Marivn, eds.). I almost Whooped! but then I remembered myself and said a quiet, Yes, instead.
This anthology sets out to showcase “some of the most exciting, ambitious, and original new voices on the contemporary poetry landscape.” (quote from jacket text)
The reason I’m connecting walls with Legitimate Dangers is that reading from both within the span of a few days made me think about getting over the wall — not only of difficult subject matter — but of the comfortable voice and language, the usual patterns, that I’d typically use in a poem.
What if I scaled that wall and like the poets in Legitmate Dangers? What if my poems did more of what Mark Doty in the preface calls “rapid shifts, turns of tone, quick movements…” and a “love of speed (that) feels anxious or exuberant…”? What if I aimed for “ambitious, carefully controlled work that exhibited heightened lyric intensity, verbal daring, and wit, and appealed both to … emotions and … intellect.” (that’s the editors in their intro)?
Ah, reading, source of all. Thank you for something more to think about and shoot for.
“When I say somewhere // it is summer…” Yesterday (was that just yesterday?) I wrote about how much I loved Christina Cook’s poem “Summer Requiem” from Grist 6. Sometimes when I really love a poem or a book, I send a little note off to the poet to let them know. While I was at it, I asked Christina for permission to reprint her poem here today, and she graciously agreed. Here, Reader, is …
Summer Requiem by Christina Cook
My hips were an apron of haze,
my flesh a feeling of snow
under the skin, tent pitched
in a nebulous field of bees.
The setting sun stole fire
from a phlox-rife field of flies
to prevent their self-
immolation. A swatch of vintage
silk landed like ash
on my fork. It was not
a butterfly but when I said
flight, its weightlessness
was a killing field
in which I could not eat.
A snapping turtle with bullets
in her back hauled herself
across the clover. I knew
it would take her two years
to die, while hundreds
of day-long lilies lived out
their lives one quick yellow
bloom at a time.
And still the snow fell
through me, sweet melt,
lemon cinnamon scent
of pie on the sill of the window.
When I say somewhere
it is summer I mean
somewhere the memory
of summer has lodged itself
in the logic of winter,
and when I say snow I mean
that I placed a piece of berry
pie on the tongue of my child
to witness his first communion
with the sun.
–first appeared in Grist 6
I love the surprising metaphors and images: “my hips were an apron…” (!!an apron!!)”turtle with bullets // in her back.” I love the line breaks that keep us in suspense and then satisfy our waiting with a slight shift in meaning: “my flesh a feeling of snow / under the skin, tent pitched… ,” (tent pitched!!!!). I love the controlled but fraught unfolding down the page. And I’m grateful to Christina for allowing me to share her poem with you.
May it be summer in your somewhere sometime soon.