bridges, headwaters

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[Hmmmm… the preview is not showing attribution for the art I’ve used here. Here it is: wikimedia]

I’ve been reading (re-reading) Mary Ruefle’s collected lectures in Madness, Rack, and Honey. This is because I want to be able to write essays that are as smart, well-crafted, labyrinthine, and aesthetically pleasing as her lectures are.

In “Someone Reading a Book” she writes:

There is a world that poets cannot seem to enter. It is the world everybody else lives in. And the only thing poets seem to have in common is their yearning to enter this world.

In the margin, I have scrawled: Maybe we write poems as bridges to the world. What I meant was: Maybe poets write poems in an attempt to bridge the distance between themselves and the world everybody else lives in. Maybe a poem is an attempt to enter that world.

I know that I often write out of a sense of bewilderment. The world bewilders me. My life bewilders me. Even my own mind bewilders me. Writing poems helps me to understand things, at least a little bit.

Maybe this desire to enter the world is the original wound. Who said it first—that all writing comes from a wound? Maybe Dorianne Laux?

Other times, I’m not so sure I want to enter the world everyone else lives in after all. Ellen Bryant Voigt:

HEADWATERS

I made a large mistake I left my house I went into the world it was not
the most perilous hostile part but I couldn’t tell among the people there

who needed what no tracks in the snow no boot pointed toward me or away
no snow as in my dooryard only the many currents of self-doubt I clung

to my own life raft I had room on it for only me you’re not surprised
it grew smaller and smaller or maybe I grew larger and heavier

but don’t you think I’m doing better in this regard I try to do better

friday roundup, half-heartedly

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Dear Reader, it’s Friday. The world we live in and life in general have me feeling quiet and half-hearted, but here I am.

[Editing to say that this image ===========> which I can’t get WordPress to let me label today is called “The Spider” by Nikolas Gysis, via wikimedia.]

I’ve been reading My Poets by Maureen McLane, a really lovely, super smart volume of what I’d call meditative criticism. In a variety of styles and from a variety of vantage points, McLane writes about the poets “who, in possessing her, made her” (quote is from jacket text). She does this, many times, through close reading of poems, but—unlike a lot of literary criticism—her close readings take into account the way these poems and poets have moved through her life as scholar, poet, and human being. It has become a VIB for me (Very Important Book). I recommend it wholeheartedly.

I’ve also been reading Fanny Howe:

Come, tinkers, among droves of acorn trees
Be only one third needful, O
Name things whereby we hope
Before the story scatters. A cardinal
Is red for fever where you passed

!

(from Introduction to the World ; sorry for linking to the Death Star, but could not find it anywhere else)

I’ve been remembering Buson’s poem (short enough to memorize, therefore no need to read), one of my all-time favorites, on this second day of autumn:

I go,
you stay;
two autumns.
(Robert Hass, trans.)

I’ve been writing, early mornings, earlier than ever, actually, since high school starts at 7:10 (!) and I now have a high-schooler (!). The world’s on fire, and there are some amazing world’s-on-fire poems circulating out there, and I would like to write some amazing world’s-on-fire poems. But I’ve been writing poems of the interior: mindscapes, emotional landscapes, questions of how to live. Sometimes I wish there existed a switch I could flip—turn off poems of the interior, turn on poems of public life. Alas, no switch. Still, yesterday I was comforted reading this interview with MacArthur Fellow, Maggie Nelson. In it she says,

“At the end of the day, maybe I’m old-fashioned in thinking that you just don’t get to choose what you’ve got in you to give. You’ve just got to do what each book demands.”

Or what each poem demands.

She also says:

“(T)he work eventually tells you what needs to be in it for it to work, and it has to have what it has to have.”

We know this already, right? But it’s nice to have a reminder. And from a MacArthur Genius at that.

Here’s a poem, a masterful conceit, a world’s-on-fire poem, a necessary poem, a heart-breaking poem, by Nikki Giovanni:

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Happy weekend & thanks for reading.

last missive from the wee, small house

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Dear reader, I am up with the birds stealing a few moments at my desk. My desk which I will likely not see again until August. It will be a summer of transience—some time at my parents’, some at my aunt’s and uncle’s, maybe some camping(?)—as we wait to get into our new house, do a bit of necessary work, then finally move in.

The thought of this for a homebody such as myself is a bit overwhelming. But books and blank notebooks have a way of saving us (me), so I have sent some ahead to be kept out of the moving van and storage. Let’s not think now about how I will have to haul them hither and yon all summer as we make our wanderings from place to place.

The books that have been saving me this week are these:

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I have always loved early C. D. Wright (Translations..).  The Poet, the Lion &c. is brand new, and I feel it should be required reading for all human beings. You could say it’s a poetic poetics. You could say it’s one, long ars poetica. You could say it’s a road map for how to live.

Here are some lines that have kept me going this week, from “Concerning Why Poetry Offers a Better Deal Than the World’s Biggest Retailer”:

*

That the poems we snatch from the language must bear the habit of our thinking.

That their arrangement strengthens the authority on which each separate line is laid.

That they extend the line into perpetuity.

That they enlarge the circle.

That they awaken the dreamer. That they awaken the schemer.

That they rectify the names.

That they draw not conclusions but further qualify doubt.

That they avail themselves of the shrapnel of everything: the disappearance of cork trees and coral, the destroyed center of Ramadi, the shape of buildings to come, the pearness of pears.

That they clear the air.

That they keep a big-box sense of humor at the ready (like an ax in a glass case).

That they bring the ship nearer to its longing.

That they resensitize the surface of things.

That they will not stand alone.

This is our mind. Our language. Our light. Our word. Our bond.

In the world.

–from The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All. 

 

*

And now I’m off to gather bed linens and take them to the laundromat for washing (because I cannot even with the thought of used bedsheets of teenaged boys sitting in an un-air-conditioned storage unit all summer).

I don’t know when I’ll be back here, but I’ll check in when I can. Meanwhile, read on, write on. Meanwhile, let’s remember: You can quit anytime. Why quit now?

friday roundup: precious little edition

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Precious little reading, precious little writing, precious little time for anything but mothering and moving. But words are precious little things, small enough to fit in here and there, and a few have lodged in me this week. Here they are:

what kind of silence?

“The impulse to create begins — often terribly and fearfully — in a tunnel of silence. Every real poem is the breaking of an existing silence, and the first question we might ask any poem is, What kind of voice is breaking silence, and what kind of silence is being broken?” —Adrienne Rich

what poems ask of us

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From Jame’s Longenbach’s The Resistance to Poetry. Callimachus was an ancient Greek poet who resisted the then-current fashion of writing long epics; “(K)eep your muse slender,” he wrote.

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This poem, by Risa Denenberg, which I admire for it’s spoken-ness, for the way it treads the line between the personal and the universal, for the way the poem resists itself.

Happy Friday, thanks for reading, dashing off to wake my precious littles…

Photo credit here.

friday roundup: listen and dictate, you can quit anytime, and the most beautiful thing

Dear Reader, today I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything until lunchtime. After a few weeks of nearly constant running, this feels luxurious and I plan to enjoy every minute of it. Let me assure you that there will be Poems, and there will be Tea (and later, if I am honest, there will be Cleaning Out the Refrigerator). But first, let there be a roundup:

listen and dictate  Several weeks ago, I read this interview at Oxford American with Rebecca Gayle Howell, whose poetry collection Render / An Apocolypse recently came out from Cleveland State University Press.

I always enjoy hearing about other poets’ writing processes, and Howell says this about hers:

“An early teacher of mine, James Baker Hall, advised me to “listen and dictate.” If I have a method I return to, it’s that one. I catch a line being uttered somewhere in the inscape, and I write it down. Then I repeat it to myself until I hear something new; I follow its lead.”

Of her book, she says:

“In the case of Render, my process led to an agrarian myth, an almanac for climate change, but I didn’t set out to write such an almanac. I set out to write an honest line.”

These bits have been echoing in my mind since I read the interview: “listen and dictate” and “I set out to write an honest line.”

Their appeal, for me, is in their simplicity. And perhaps in their speed, or lack thereof. If what it takes to write a poem is to listen for a line, write it down, and then wait for what comes next, that seems eminently doable even in the busiest of times. If the goal is not a book, or a Pushcart, or even a poem; if the goal is to write an honest line, well that seems doable, too. And both approaches strike me as slow. Slow in the best possible way. Slow, no rush. Slow, until the time is ripe. Which is not to rule out the words all coming in a rush, but if they don’t, okay, keep going.

you can quit anytime  Here is some encouragement for keeping at it with submissions: The Missouri Review says it plain: Stubbornly Submitting to a Literary Magazine is Good. I’m glad to hear this, and particularly glad to hear it from TMR, because I plan to submit poems to them until the day I die. Also, Blackbird, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, Southern Review, I’m looking at you.

Here’s the takeaway: “You can quit anytime. Why quit now?”

the most beautiful thing  As usual, I’ve strayed from the path of my assigned readings and into the pages of a book I just happened to bump into. This time, I bumped into May Day by Gretchen Marquette. These poems are about grief and loss and fear and also survival. They’re about keeping on, even if there is no “happy” ending. I fell for the poem “Figure Drawing” in particular. You can read it here on the TriQuarterly website. You can buy May Day here.

Let us listen and dictate. Let us keep on. Let us not quit now.

friday not-a-roundup: SYLLABUS and Rumi

IMG_6761Dear Reader, I am here with not-a-roundup, or not quite a roundup.

During these transitional days, I’ve had a hard time finding the stretches of time that encourage deep listening and thinking that are so vital to creative work, and have even found it difficult to read straight narratives.

Enter Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, by Lynda Barry.

I was tipped off to this book by a Q&A with my friend and fellow poet, Sarah Pape.

The book is a collection of notes, questions, sketches, and syllabi created by Lynda Barry during her time teaching interdisciplinary classes on creativity at the University of Wisconsin. Amongst many other things, it introduces a way of keeping a notebook that helps its keeper (1). notice things, and (2). enter into her sources of creativity: the subconscious mind, memories, obsessions, etc.

The basic gist is to keep a daily notebook, in which each page looks something like this (except with your own content, of course):

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Some names have been changed to protect the innocent

One thing I like about the method is that it’s quick–takes about 5 minutes. Another thing is that it’s easy, by which I think I mean: not emotionally freighted, not in the service of any particular outcome. I’ve been at it only a few days, and already I find myself NOTICING more: the curl of an extension cord on the floor (hello, makeshifting), the sign my mom left on my desk in order to preserve its’ fragile legs: “Do not slide this desk—only lift it.” The practice has helped me not only to notice things, but to notice which things I notice. Why does the wording on the sign keep coming back to me? Why do I keep seeing the curl of the extension cord in my mind’s eye?

Anyway, there’s a lot more to Syllabus than this, but if you’re looking for something to jump start or re-energize your creative practice, you could do worse than to get your hands on a copy and try it.

Here’s a little something from its’ pages, a quote from Rumi, which reminds me (again) of why I write so many poems even if most of them go nowhere:

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And here is a Rumi poem that Barry uses throughout her classes. She recites it while her students draw:

*

THE DIVERS CLOTHES LYING EMPTY ON THE BEACH
by Rumi; Coleman Barks, trans.

You are sitting here with us
but you are also walking in a field at dawn.

You are yourself the animal we hunt
when you come with us on the hunt.

You are in your body
like a plant is solid in the ground,
yet you are wind.

You are the diver’s clothes
lying empty on the beach.
You are the fish.

In the ocean are many bright strands
and many dark strands like veins that are seen
when a wing is lifted up.

Your hidden self is blood in those,
those veins that are lute strings
that make ocean music,
not the sad edge of surf
but the sound of no shore.

*

I am happy to be alive in a world where someone is a professor of interdisciplinary creativity, and where I can learn from her learning. And where moms leave notes to protect the fragile legs of desks, and extension cords loop on the floors of  mostly-bare rooms, looking like the thread of giants or some impossible sea creature forgotten on land.

friday roundup: poetry is, the poet is, & “and so there came to me sorrow”

Reader, this is my desk right now:

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How often do I start these posts by saying everything’s chaotic? Well, this time I mean it. We’ve (mostly) moved out of the house to have some work done on it and everything’s chaotic. Poetry has not been the first thing on my mind, but I think I can scrape together a roundup. Here we go:

sometimes I think I should avoid all social media now and forever amen But then I read something like Ange Mlinko‘s reflection at FSG’s Work in Progress today, which I never would’ve seen if not for social media, and I think I have to stay on social media now and forever amen.

Mlinko writes, amongst other things, about her own discovery of what a poem is. She writes a little argument against poets needing beautiful places: “Learning another language is a thousand times more useful to poetry than a room with a view” (though, again… I would not look down my nose at a room with a view. I would not.). She reminds us that a poet’s task is not to gush over things. Here are a couple of her definitions of what poetry is, what a poem is:

“Poetry is articulation: conversation and history and the fate of persons.”

and

“I would no longer think of a poem as an aesthetic object, but as a fragment of an abiding conversation.”

I love this last idea especially. Every poem a fragment. Every poem in a continuum. Read the whole (short and entirely readable) reflection here.

a poet is … or is not. I’m reading Denise Levertov’s translation of Guillevic. I have another, bigger translation of his work, but so far I’m enjoying Levertov’s more, primarily because of her translations, but also because it’s much smaller and more mangeable. I am that kind of reader, I guess: Give me a tome and I’m overwhelmed before I open it; give me smaller and more manageable and I will go in, and deeply.

Anyway, the book is prefaced with remarks by Guillevic about what a poet is and is not. This was written in a time when all was written in the masculine and I’m going to let those references stand without the [sic] [sic] [sic], but feel free to imagine other pronouns, whichever fit your life. Here’s what he says:

“For the poet is he who has the power to make with the language of his country certain combinations which other men need in order to find themselves, to find the world—to live.”

and

“For poets, there is a road that must be travelled in order to arrive at living on the true side of life, that side of it one can finally affirm… .”

and

“(W)hen I say here, poet, I do not mean versifier, but that man who writes a tortured language in which other men—and the language itself—can recognize themselves as true.”

I can sign up for that.

and so there came to me sorrow  Here is a beautifully sad little poem of Guillevic’s that I keep returning to (it is untitled, but bears the dedication: a Colomba (to Colomba; and that a should have a little left-leaning tag above it in the French).

*

I had married a wand of willow
and so there came to me sorrow.

We never took those long voyages
through clouds towards
a depth of sky.

But I was poised
for moments or for eternity
like water in water.

—And now the time comes when he must know
who, on the riverbank, has touched
his bride,
the willowbranch:

whether it is again he who suffers
so much, and in so many landscapes.

*

It’s interesting… in a note, Levertov admits to departing from the literal meaning of the second line of the poem, which literally translated would read “and of course the worst one that came along.” For me, her translation loses the humor of Guillevic’s words, but is ever more poignant. I don’t translate, and don’t have a well-formed opinion of whether translators ought to depart from meaning this radically, but in this instance I’m pretty much loving the Levertov translation.

I’m interested in, and frankly a little puzzled by, the shift from first-person (“I”) to third-person (“he”) in the fourth stanza. A little distancing happens in that shift, but you don’t often see this… . What I’m saying is that shift would get nailed in workshop! :). But I guess if you’re Guillevic you can get away with it. And I like the quirkiness of it.

Thanks for reading, happy weekend!

 

friday roundup: going to seed edition

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It’s Friday again (and here I think of Robert Hass: “The first fact of the world is that it repeats itself.”).

I had planned to be at AWP this week, but Things Changed.

Today is April 1. I am not fooling about anything. Last year on this day, one of my darlings replaced the sugar with salt and I ended up with salty tea at 5:00 a.m. In case you can’t tell I AM NOT OVER IT YET, and therefore am boycotting April Fool’s Day. Forever.

Now, for the roundup:

going to seed  After my musings on a room of one’s own, a friend sent me an article by Annie Dillard in which she writes about her writing digs. She keeps things simple: sheds and tents:

“When you build a fancy study—a houslet—or add a room to your house, you lose the fun of the thing. A toolshed or a tent, like a tree house, lets you fool yourself into thinking you are not working, only playing. ‘Society’s norms be damned,’ you tell yourself, ‘I’m on the lam.'”

I can see her point, and I’m not much one for “fancy,” but I would not look down my nose at a study, a room in my house. I would not.

My favorite part of the article has more to do with the writing life than writing studios. She writes:

“In order to write books I spend fully as much energy ignoring what I was reared to notice as I spend working. The feats of discipline people think writers perform to drive themselves to their desk are easy evasions of the real hard work: not playing along with the rest of the world.”

Can I get an amen? And here’s the best line of the essay:

“Going to seed is an act of will.”

How I love this line! A friend pointed out that “going to seed” is such a nicer thought than “living in squalor.” I’m all in for going to seed. I wish I could link to this essay, but it is apparently the only thing in the world that is not findable on the Interwebs. If you are intrepid, you can go to the library and see if you can find it through EBSCOhost or something… it appeared in Architectural Digest under the title “Keeping It Simple.” Also it’s in this book.

the only thing we really have This week I stumbled upon and thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Blake’s article at The Rumpus, “Men Explain Submissions to Me.” She discusses some of the demoralizing aspects of submitting poems to lit mags, and the even more demoralizing feeling of getting mansplained in the process. But even better, she gives us a list of soul-preserving things to do (and not do), reminding us that “the only thing we really have is respect for ourselves and our art.” What I love about her list is that it is steadfastly committed to the writer keeping her agency throughout the submissions process. “Treat your work the best you can,” she writes; and, “Guard your energy at all costs. Your energy is best for your writing.”

You should go read the whole article / list here.

a poetry of shine  I’ve been spending a lot of time with C.D. Wright’s Steal Away: Selected and New Poems. Here’s a kind of ars poetica that I’ve really fallen for:

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MORNING STAR by C.D. Wright

This isn’t the end. It simply
cannot be the end. It is a road.
You go ahead coatless, light-
soaked, more rutilant than
the road. The soles of your shoes
sparkle. You walk softly
as you move further inside
your subject. It is a living
season. The trees are anxious
to be included. The car with fins
beams through countless
oncoming points of rage and need.
The sloughed-off cells
under our bed form little hills
of dead matter. If the most sidereal
drink is pain, the most soothing
clock is music. A poetry
of shine could come of this.
It will be predominantly
green. You will be allowed
to color in as much as you want
for green is good
for the teeth and the eyes.

*

Wishing you a happy April 1, no fooling.

 

friday roundup: the lies we tell ourselves version

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Scary Clown

Reader, I am back from my writing residency. Which was wonderful (more on that soon). And I’m thinking about the lies we tell ourselves.

lie #1: clowns are not scary  I’ve been telling myself this as long as I can remember. Perhaps it all started with Bozo the Clown (that hair, those shoes!); the deal was sealed by reading It in eighth grade. But “clowns are not scary” is a lie. I just now walked out into my garage and was unexpectedly greeted by Scary Clown.

Clowns are scary. That is all.

lie #2: one does not need a room of one’s own  This one’s a little more complicated than “clowns are not scary.”

Many are the times (and blog posts) in which I remind myself that one does not need a room of one’s own in order to write. By and large, I believe this to be true.

But when one goes away on a writing residency and actually has a room of one’s own to write in for ten days, one must then confess that there are benefits to having a room of one’s own.

For example, one can write the titles of all the poems one has written or plans to write on index cards. One can then fasten those index cards to the walls in thematic groupings. To wit:

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This….. multiplied by 3 walls

One is then able to see the pathways along which one has been writing, even though one had thought oneself to be writing “just a bunch of random poems” for months.

One can also hang one’s manuscript on the wall. To wit:

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The ms. – partial view

One might then realize  a couple poems need to come out, one needs reformatting to shine, and a few need reordering. One may be putting lipstick on a pig, but at least one is doing it with an eye to the entire pig.

So, for me the bottom line is: One probably cannot have a room of one’s own all the time unless one is very, very lucky indeed. But one must endeavor to have a room of one’s own from time to time. Amen.

(As for the other benefits of a literal and figurative room of one’s own—the quiet, the time to think, the creative flow, the other-people-cooking-one’s-meals effect, these I will address soon in another post. Meanwhile, let these benefits not be underestimated.)

lie #3: this has *got* to be the last of the snow It is snowing again in the Old Country (also known as Michigan). Although there is no snow fatigue going on here in the Peninsula Town, I remember well the snow fatigue that accompanies March in winter climates. Luckily, we have poems for this. Here is Heid E. Erdrich‘s poem, “Last Snow.”

Happy weekend and thanks for reading!