an August poem

AnneS

I REMEMBER by Anne Sexton

By the first of August
the invisible beetles began
to snore and the grass was
as tough as hemp and was
no color—no more than
the sand was a color and
we had worn our bare feet
bare since the twentieth
of June and there were times
we forgot to wind up your
alarm clock and some nights
we took our gin warm and neat
from old jelly glasses while
the sun blew out of sight
like a red picture hat and
one day I tied my hair back
with a ribbon and you said
that I looked almost like
a puritan lady and what
I remember best is that
the door to your room was
the door to mine.

—from her collection All My Pretty Ones

friday roundup: Whatever in passing

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Spring is trying to arrive; some days yes and some days no.

(I think) I’m nearly finished with my creative thesis and my critical paper.

There are nine weeks of school left for the kids.

We just dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb known to humankind.

There is an app that will wake you up to the sound of birdsong.

I’m not sure what to make of any of it, but here are some things:

no Creative people say no. Women, especially, are conditioned not to say no. And never the twain shall meet.

Someone once tweeted (I can’t remember who, but the words have stayed with me): You will have to say no in order to do your work. It will be worth it. I have said no to lunch invitations, movies, shopping days, volunteer “opportunities,” children, laundry, dinners (as in making them), hairstyles (as in having one), arguments (both having them and settling them), sleep, and more, in order to do my work. I just said no to a second game of PIG on the driveway basketball hoop with my darling girl. “I wish I could, but I have to work today,” is what I said. The more I do it, the easier it gets.

Here are two articles about saying no, and one even gives you some good ways of saying it: One. Two. Spoiler: Even Dickens said no.

reinforcements A friend posted this on Facebook the other day, and it’s now hanging above my desk. In case your will to say no requires reinforcements:

A woman must be careful not to allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She must simply put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she “should” be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only. —Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Men may also need to be careful about this, but since those who identify as women still do most of the child-rearing, household-running, and the Administrative Caca that comes with those tasks—none of which are ever “finished”—, it’s especially important for the Sisterhood.

Whatever in passing  This morning I read two poems at Poetry Northwest‘s website written and translated by two women—Ye Lijun and Fiona Sze-Lorrain—who said yes to their art. We will never know what they said no to in order to do it, but I am so glad they did, because these poems are exquisite and they kindle in me the desire to keep trying to make exquisite things with words.

You can read them here.

one more thing I recently—and finally—created an author website. If you click on it, it will become more findable. Would you? Thanks. www.mollyspencer.com.

Happy weekend!

shit goes wrong

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I have mostly been writing my thesis nonstop for the last two weeks. A draft is due tomorrow. I should be working on it now (and will soon), but I’m stopping by here to share a link to two of my poems in this month’s THRUSH poetry journal.

They are poems from my first full-length manuscript which is currently making the rounds.

At first glance, they might appear to be poems about love gone wrong—Persephone and Hades, you know the story. But when I wrote them they were attempts to reckon with the reality of serious, chronic illness. Illness that was never going away.

More broadly, I was attempting to reckon with the problem of suffering. Suffering, which—as long as there are sentient beings in existence—is never going away.

Shit goes wrong.

Sometimes something dark kidnaps you and takes you underground through a rend in the earth. You’re down there, you’re hungry, you miss your mother.

But after a while it becomes your life. YOUR life. And so, while you wouldn’t choose it, you can’t exactly wish it away either.

Here are the poems, and make sure to read the rest of the issue, too. Thanks for reading.

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(Note: The first poem is also an ekphrasis of the painting above, View of the Campagna, 1832 by Friedrich Wasmann; oil on paper mounted on cardboard, Hamburger Kunsthalle. You can find a larger image of it here).

today

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my “desk” (once again, it’s a kitchen table)

I am at my “desk.” The kids are at school all day. This miracle last occurred on June 3rd.

I am so happy that three out of three kids came home from school yesterday with smiles on their faces (it was the first day, a half-day).

We are still not living in a house. The duffle bags and their contents, which I thought would need to get us through until mid-July, are going to have to limp along until mid-October. At least.

(Do you know of this book?

I love the book. I do not love not living in a house.)

I have bought duplicates of:

  • More books than I want to think about (sometimes you just need Zbigneiw Herbert, …and… some other books)
  • A chef’s knife
  • MANY OFFICE SUPPLIES. Many.
  • A printer
  • A broom, a rake, a bucket, sponges, scrubbers, rubber gloves

I am *this* close to buying a duplicate Swiffer. I am even tempted by the crock pots of the world, but I refuse. I refuse.

The peaches are ripe. The plums are ripe. The tomatoes are at their peak. You can often find me holding my head over the sink, eating some drippy, delectable fruit of the earth. Bliss.

I hope no one ever looks through  my books and reads my marginalia. “Bzzzt” means: I disagree. Entirely. “Bwhahahaha!” means: I can’t even believe he said that. “ZOMG!” means: Utterly incredible. In a good way.

There are two flies—one big, one small—buzzing around my head. I am, of course, thinking of Emily Dickinson. And wondering why there is no fly emoticon.

I keep reading this poem*:

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[*Please note how he borrows from Emily Dickinson: From her letters, “This world is just a little place, just the red in the sky, before the sun rises, so let us keep fast hold of hands, that when the birds begin, none of us be missing.”]

And I keep reading this poem.

And I keep reading this poem.

And Joanna Klink’s poem “On Diminishment” from the current issue of Tin House. Go get you some. The poem worth the cover price.

And this poem, mainly because my eldest is playing football. I am surprised by this. He has football homework every night. I am also surprised by this. I am formulating a theory about high school athletics and the roots of male privilege (I am not surprised by this, and I am complicit). There’s a game at 4:30. Weather forecast: 88 degrees and stormy. I now own ponchos. I am, you might guess, surprised by this.

I’ve been writing, mornings. I’ve been sending poems out. I’ve been doing both things slowly, as usual.

I’ve been typing up notes from my MFA residency. It’s like learning everything all over again.

I have nearly killed the geraniums I bought a month ago. I am not yet ready to commit to mums. I abhor everything pumpkin spice.

I am glad to be here at this blog, writing something, anything.

I am trying to do this thing called “today,” every day, the best I can.

 

one of my favorite love poems

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“let us all be from somewhere”

It’s Friday. Even though the world has made me feel so quiet lately, has made words seem so powerless, extraneous even. It’s Friday, and we made it safely to Michigan, to the arms of our extended family, to the place on the map where my body feels safest, my heart most at peace. It’s Friday, and though I’ve missed a few and may yet miss a few more, Friday is for posting poems. So I’m going to post a little love poem that I love.

It’s a love poem for a place. A true love poem—one that knows its lover’s faults and foibles. One that loves anyway. It’s funny. It’s poignant. It’s powerful and powerless, extraneous even. I’ve probably posted it before. It’s “A Primer” by Bob Hicok.

 Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.

what the bulletin board actually says

Last week, I published this photo of my bulletin board, which is packed away somewhere. O, how I miss it.

It occurs to me that you can’t actually read many of the notes or quotes on the board from the photo, so here is what they are / say:

“no matter what
regardless of what others think
until you learn it better
every day
until you die” –Hope Clark

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Cheat sheet for considering a poem (blue index card):
narrative (if any)
diction
syntax / line
sound / rhythm
figurative language
form
rhetorical integrity
tradition
emotion –> what’s at stake? tension / complexity
what does this poem value?
what version of paradise does it reveal?
what are its thresholds and how does it cross them?

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Random sticker of a buffalo courtesy of my youngest (“Mom, do you want this sticker of a buffalo for your bulletin board?” “Errrr…, yes, of course! Thank you!”)

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“How much better is silence; the the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” –Virginia Woolf, The Waves

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“I don’t know what’s meant by Know thyself, which seems to ask a window to look at a window. I aspire to know when best to walk, or eat, which music I need, and how to keep myself sitting as I am now, stubbornly enraptured with doing practically nothing.” –James Richardson

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When you are fooled by something else, the damage will not be so big. But when you are fooled by yourself, it is fatal.” –Shunkyu Suzuki

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Cheat sheet on TONES (my list of tones a poem might take, short and partial)
detached (Emily D., Louise G.)
skepticism, self-skepticism
reverence (Plumly)
frat boy (Bob H.) (with my apologies)
intellectual (Stevens)
rebellious (Sexton)
dramatic (Plath)
tender

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“Every line should be a station of the cross.” –Charles Wright

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“Protect your inner life…” etc. –Jane Kenyon

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“Art undoes the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.” –Theodore Roethke

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“Life, by definition, is not an intrusion.” –Sarah Ruhl

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Each day comes with 86,400 seconds. Tick tock.

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[Emily staring at me]

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“The bad news is that you’re falling through air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.” –Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

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Cheat sheet on METAPHOR — Steven Dobyns
metaphor consists of — object, image
object: “Quiet
——————-
image: “like a house where the witch has just stopped dancing.” (Asian Figures, W.S. Merwin, trans.)
The best metaphors have images that are open-ended, that could have additional meaning each time it’s considered.

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[Postcard of Bonnard’s “The Almond Tree in Blossom”]

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[(most recent) Rejection from The Southern Review]

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“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anaïs Nin

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“I find myself longing for one living word
To last among a thousand dead ones—
Home—” –David Biespiel

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[Notes from my faculty mentor on things to look for in Frances Levinston’s work–things he thinks I’m working on: capaciousness and simplicity; highlighting a major metaphor]

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“I will not give up and neither will you.” –poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi, possibly the most inspiring voice on Facebook

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“One learns to play the harp by playing.” –Aristotle

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Quote from a Good Earth tea bag: “You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.” –Isadora Duncan

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“Walk on air against your better judgement.” –Seamus Heaney’s epitaph (and a line from one of his poems, I believe, but most of my books are packed away so I can’t confirm).

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“For there are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.” –Rilke

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[Self-Portrait on a Small Blue Square by Middle Child. Or Eldest Child. I can’t remember. That’s the kind of mom I am.]

makeshifting

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I have begun to believe that the word makeshift should be a verb.

makeshift: serving as a temporary substitute; sufficient for the time being. Syn.: temporary, provisional, interim, stopgap, make-do, standby, rough and ready, improvised, ad hoc, extempore, jury-rigged, jerry-built, thrown together, cobbled together. Ant.: permanent.

I am makeshifting a writing desk here, as we prepare to move. Again. This time, it’s a happy move, home to The Mitten. Mostly happy. It’s always hard to leave people you love, and I love some very amazing people here.

For the record, I’m aware that winters will be longer and colder in Michigan (people in and around the Peninsula Town are fond of mentioning this). I have faith in my ability to endure, and expert knowledge of winter clothing strategies, sometimes makeshift in nature, but effective (bread bags in your boots, anyone?).

In the last few weeks we’ve: moved out of our house into a rental apartment, sold the house and rented it back, moved out of the rental apartment and back into the house, traveled to Michigan to look at houses, and traveled back again. In the next few weeks, the kids will finish the school year, the movers will come, we will say our ‘until-we-meet-agains,’ and then make our way north and east.

Which is to say: Life: 5,472; Poetry: 3 1/2.

Most of everything is packed away, so there’s a lot of makeshifting going on: borrowing clothes, hunting for eye drops in the oddest places, wishing I’d set a few more books aside to remain unpacked, making do, shifting expectations, even doing without my afternoon cup of tea from time to time (I know: it’s sad, but true). I’ve been thinking a lot about connections to objects (it’s the books I miss most, and my flannel shirts), about comfort; thinking a lot about refugees, their rooflessness, all the makeshifting they are made to do a thousand times a day. My makeshifting is nothing in comparison, of course.

I’m going to try not to disappear here, checking in when I can, maybe posting things in shorter bursts. Making, shifting, &c.

friday in lieu of a roundup (again)

2016: the year the artists died. Or that’s how it feels. Or maybe I am just old enough now that the artists that coursed through my life are old enough to die (though some have died too young, to be sure).

I am tied up most of today–no time for the usual roundup. But this here is a poem I turn to when the world feels much too dark. Which is often.

I’ve probably posted it here before, but it keeps. I give you W. S. Merwin:

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THANKS by W. S. Merwin

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

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