Hello, Reader. It is Friday, and I’m afraid there has been more laundry than poetry this week. To wit:
Ah well, some weeks are like that.
did you work today? But there has been some reading and writing, too. I have a deadline coming up for my MFA program, and I’ve been thinking about (yet another) Stanley Plumly quote:
“If tone is one way, historically, of describing the voice within and of a poem, then rhetoric is the way tone of voice is achieved. Rhetoric ought to be no more or less than the presence of the poet, made manifest, in his poem.”
That’s from Argument & Song again, which has taken over my life. I mean that in the best possible way.
Anyway, so I have been reading poems and poets, trying to identify the locations of “tone of voice” and the tools of rhetoric that create it. I have been scribbling notes like: “diction: spectrum from spare <——->lush”; “particularity vs. anonymity”; “structure of progressions: accumulation vs. leaps (also consider sound)”; “use of the appositive as means for discovery”; “entrances into poems: the utterance vs. the set scene.”
I have no idea whether I will succeed in coming to conclusions that could constitute an argument for a paper. What I do know is that flailing around is my process, and that there will be more flailing before it’s all said and done. What I do know is that even if all the flailing is for naught and I have to switch topics three days before the paper’s due, I will still have learned something about what Plumly calls “tone of voice.”
Same with poems. All the failed (and flailed) attempts are for learning. They will never desert you. They will make of the ruins of themselves the poem that actually works, perhaps many years hence. Nothing is wasted. (I am reminding you of this, but really I am reminding myself, so thanks for indulging me).
did you eat? As I’ve said many times before, reading is my creative nourishment. None of my poems would exist without the poems I’ve read and studied before writing them. And so even when I’m flailing around for paper topics and writing only a little, I am always reading.
I’m still reading Laura Jensen, this time her third book, Shelter. I’m still in love with the strangeness of her poems. Hers are poems in which the presence of the poet is made manifest. Here is a poem that has captured my attention this week; it made me think of that quote by D. W. Winnicott: “It is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found.”
CHILD HIDING by Laura Jensen
The sun just now when it was hidden
was like a child in white behind the fish tank
and a breath of rain that was plummeting
nearly brushed my face. I must have moved
my head momentarily to protect my glasses,
then the cloudburst eased and came to the stop
it makes, eaves yet in the wet dim marbled way
they drip. I never saw such sunlight
in the yellow-green leaves of the cherry,
in its velvet black trunk. The lustrous
sun and the lustrous shades on the grass blades.
The sun was moving back of the wet white
clouds and the color through or inside
everything was where and what it wanted to be,
and wanted to emerge from laughing. May every
one of us come running out glad. That prayer
depends on such a light, depends on life
going well, and right. So often we are saddened
like a child that leaves off hiding when he sees
it never mattered, his hiding place. To know
and to come away is what I would finally have to
learn, to suddenly grow chilly and close the door.
did you love? Next is an essay on the writing life by David Allan Cates, one of the faculty members at my MFA program. He delivered the essay as a talk on the last day of the residency in August. Many tears were shed. You can read it now for sure, but if nothing else, print out a copy (or bookmark it) and tuck it away for a time when you’re down and discouraged about your writing and/or the writing life. Here’s a little morsel, but the whole thing’s a meal:
Finally: You—We—have got to love this stuff. The aching beauty of the words. How they sound, and then the silence. How our mouths form them from breath. How like our lives they are here, then they are gone. Their vaporous essence should make your skin turn inside out. Because how else to endure what you’ll most likely have to endure as a writer? To stand and look out at the world and to let the bottom fall out of the moment. Let’s face it. This is not a career. 99 percent of you will earn very little money. 99 percent of you will get little acclaim beyond a few dozen, a few hundred, maybe a few thousand readers. You’ll endure what every other human on earth has endured: all the lost, lost things. And you’ll endure it by answering these three questions: Did you work today? Did you eat? Did you love?
May your answers always be: yes, yes, and yes.