friday roundup: the Eiffel Tower of poetry, split the page, and mortal moments



Hello Reader, and happy Friday. Since the last roundup there have been FIVE whole days of school for the kids! (well, technically four and a half since every Thursday is a half-day — but still, much more poetry time than last week). I’ve been getting up with the moon, which has been amazing this week in case you haven’t noticed. When the kids were small and went to bed at 7:00, I would go to bed at 8:30 and get up at 4:30 to write. I fell out of that habit as they grew and their bedtimes, and mine, got later. But for the last two weeks I’ve reverted to my old schedule with a slight adjustment of the waking time to 4:45. Say ‘hey’ to the moon, make tea, and I’m at my desk by five. I’ve been a much happier person on this schedule — just knowing that time at my desk is waiting for me each morning, or knowing that, whatever unexpected events the day holds for me, I’ve already put in my time at my desk. I’m adding one pre-dawn hour for reading and writing to my brief list of saving things. Now, on to the roundup:

the Eiffel Tower of poetry  I continue my love-fest with Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey. This week I read her essay on theme. I was thrilled to learn, amongst other things, that Mary and I have in common an uneasy relationship with Polartec, and also that she refuses to subscribe to, but secretly reads, the New Yorker (seriously, people, you have to read this book). But about theme she says:

“I am led to believe theme is absolutely meaningless in the long run. But part of me cannot believe I just said that.”

She also says (and this next quote strikes me as particularly important from a craft perspective):

“If you take the theme out of the poem and talk about that theme there should still be some residual being left in the poem that goes on ticking, something like, why not say it, color, something that has an effect on your central nervous system. It is not what a poem says with its mouth, it’s what a poem does with its eyes.”

Ruefle eventually argues that maybe all themes are similar or the same. We’ve heard it before: all poetry is about death. Ruefle doesn’t go quite that far. She says all poetry is about mutability (mutable meaning “liable to change”; from the Latin mutare “to change”). She closes the essay thus:

“I have nothing else to say about theme; the whole subject has begun to depress me, like the classified ads in poetry magazines. As Roland Barthes reminds us, Maupassant often ate lunch at the Eiffel Tower, because it was the only place in Paris from which the Eiffel Tower could not be seen. Where is the Eiffel Tower of poetry, and could we have lunch there?”

Yes, Mary. Let’s.

split the page  Every time I hear the word “split” I say in my head “the lark and you’ll find the music.” This phrase occurred to me this morning, somehow, as I was turning to my notebook and I thought I wonder what would happen if I split the page? Would I find music? I tried it. Literally. I folded the page down the middle, then did a freewrite in the left hand column. Next a free-write in the right hand column, encouraging but not forcing, the lines to weave together where they met in the middle. To wit:


A new trick for getting to unexpected language and image! The results, while not mind-blowing, were at least interesting and will be good inputs for drafting days. I thought I’d share this trick with you — another way to cut and shuffle language — in case it appeals to you to try it.

mortal moments  Many in the world are marking Good Friday today, and so it seemed a good day to turn to Denise Levertov (known affectionately on this blog as D-Lev) whose heritage was Jewish, upbringing was Anglican, and who converted to Catholicism later in life. Here’s an ekphrastic poem, which I think draws on Rembrandt’s heads of Christ paintings (the Google seems to think so, and the poem mentions “those small heads”). One thing I love about this poem is that the poet considers what’s NOT in the painting (add it to your methods for ekphrasis). It’s also pleasingly (to me) post-modern: the Christ is humanized and maybe even flawed. Here is:


Salvator Mundi: Via Cruces by Denise Levertov

Maybe He looked indeed
much as Rembrandt envisioned Him
in those small heads that seem in fact
portraits of more than a model.
A dark, still young, very intelligent face,
a soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging.
That face, in extremis, would have clenched its teeth
in a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions.
The burden of humanness (as I begin to see) exacted from Him
that He taste also the humiliation of dread,
cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go,
like any mortal hero out of his depth,
like anyone wh has taken a step too far
and wants herself back.
The painters, even the greatest, don’t show how,
in the midnight Garden,
or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross,
He went through with even the human longing
to simply cease, not to be.
Not torture of body,
not the hideous betrayals humans commit
nor the faithless weakness of friends, and surely
not the anticipation of death (not then, in agony’s grip)
was Incarnation’s heaviest weight,
but this sickened desire to renege,
to step back from what He, Who was God,
had promised Himself, and had entered
time and flesh to enact.
Sublime acceptance, to be absolute, to have welled
up from those depths where purpose
drifted for mortal moments.


Mortal moments. Mutability. Lunch at the Eiffel Tower with Mary Ruefle. I wish it all for you. Thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “friday roundup: the Eiffel Tower of poetry, split the page, and mortal moments

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