Hi Reader, and happy new year. We are back from a wonderful trip to Michigan to visit family. There were cousins! There were all sorts of Christmas cookies! There was snow! It was fun, and my joy was doubled seeing how much the kids enjoyed our time with family and the northern Michigan landscape I so dearly love. Now, I seem to be taking my time getting back into a routine (in my defense, the kids weren’t back in school until Wednesday and yesterday was a half-day), but I’m getting there in fits and starts.
I’ve been reading here and there, working on book reviews, and trying to organize my workspace for the new year. I’m not big on resolutions or fresh starts; I’m just showing up at my desk as usual, and here’s what I’m thinking bout this week:
writing as re-vision In the new Writer’s Chronicle, I came across a reference to Adrienne Rich’s essay “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision.” Of course I had to read it, and although it was written in the year I was born, I feel much of what it has to say—about writing, about feminism, and about life (and for me, especially the life of a poet-mother)—still applies. Here are two of my favorite snippets:
“Re-vision—the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction—is for us more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival.”
“You have to be free to play around with the notion that day might be night, love might be hate; nothing can be too sacred for the imagination to turn into its opposite or call experimentally by another name. For writing is re-naming.”
In her essay, Rich was writing about re-vision as a way of understanding the world and one’s self in the world amidst the feminist movement, and about transforming that experience into art. Without detracting from the importance of Rich’s macro-level ideas, I think it’s also interesting to think of these quotes at a much the micro level: while re-visioning poems.
You can find the whole essay here. Thank you, Interwebs.
soothsaying in reverse I’ve also been reading Marianne Boruch’s essay “The End Inside It.” Thank you, New England Review. Have you read any of Boruch’s essays? They are amazing things: deeply intelligent, lyrical, somehow also philosophical, syntactically astonishing, often wryly humorous, and then also so very attuned to craft. I don’t know how she does it. She says many thought-provoking things in this essay, and takes a close look at endings in several different poems, but the thing that keeps rising to the top of my mind is this bit:
“One of the simple, great things about poems is that for the most part they are small inventions—a page, two pages. That is, we can be there with them; we can hover, literally over them, a few moments for the eye, an ear to them briefly, and how many breaths from first to line to last? Not that many. Which is to say, in reading—as reader—the finished thing, or in its morphing into the revision if we’re actually the writer-thereof, we can enter it again and again until it all becomes a kind of soothsaying in reverse, to stare at a poem (as reader) or its draft (as writer) and note how the ending in fact comes to be, came to be, or could come to be, bringing its most secret life as both earned thing—fashionable to say that now—and as deep surprise.”
No pressure. But how about that: “soothsaying in reverse”!? Let us all be soothsayers.
irrevocable This poem will be a repeat for those who saw it on Facebook. Sorry, but 1). I cut off a line-end in the photo on Facebook and thus need to right my wrong on the Interwebs and 2). It merits re-reading and has, over the last few days, become for me an utterly irrevocable poem, one that I’ll live with until the end of my days. Irrevocable, as in not able to be reversed or called (Latin vocare) back (Latin re-):
GOSSIP IN THE VILLAGE by Larry Levis
I told no one, but the snows came, anyway.
They weren’t even serious about it, at first.
Then, they seemed to say, if nothing happened,
Snow could say that, & almost perfectly.
The village slept in the gunmetal of its evening.
And there, through a thin dress once, I touched
A body so alive & eager I thought it must be
Someone else’s soul. And though I was mistaken,
And though we parted, & the roads kept thawing between snows
In the first spring sun, & it was all, like spring,
Irrevocable, irony has made me thinner. Someday, weeks
From now, I will wake alone. My fate, I will think,
Will be to have no fate. I will feel suddenly hungry.
The morning will be be bright, & wrong.
This is from Levis’ posthumous collection The Darkening Trapeze edited by David St. John. I could write pages about Larry Levis, about how he is the poet laureate of oblivion, about his poem “Rhododendrons,” about his lines, his elegies, and the sad fact of his short life. But… but… all this reading? None of it was assigned. And thus I must turn my attention to things assigned and due next week.
Happy weekend and thanks for reading.