I attack the ruse.

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(art from wikimedia)

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Nobody is attached
by Tomaž Šalamun

Nobody is attached. You too are not. You too
are undressed and warm, breathing like a

hare. We breathe slowly. I’m the thorn.
The thorn. I go into the goblet. I toss

the string. There’s a bucket on the string. It
splashes in the fountain. At the bottom of the fountain

there are does with big eyes. I limp, I eat kohlrabi,
point with a finger, and ask too much. Calm

yourself. It will come and vanish. You’ll be mute
and black and you will fall asleep on the shelf.

Combines will halve you. The shy ones
the rag opened the eyes to the timid ones.

No one loaded the duffle. The lamps along the path
were made of white plastic. I attack the ruse. I love.

*

I love this poem for its strange unconnectedness. Richard Hugo: “Connections are not stated, yet we know the statements are connected. They are connected because the same poet wrote all (of them). That is, they are products of one vision that, along with style, becomes the adhesive force. This adhesive force will be your way of writing. Assume the next thing belongs because you put it there.” From Hugo’s “Nuts and Bolts.”

I am almost mad when it ends up the lamps along the path are made of plastic. But then I see how it fits perfectly, waking us from the dream of the poem.

I’m not sure who translated this poem, but Šalamun translated his own work at least some of the time. I found this poem via the poet Gretchen Marquette, whose book May Day is fantastic. You should read it.

Happy New Year!

friday roundup: Emily Dickinson in the kitchen edition, and some other stuff

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Another Friday. Next Friday we will begin living in a house again. Granted, it will be a house full of many unpacked boxes and mostly empty of furniture, but it will be a house. And the  most important thing is this: my books and bookshelves will be there. I confess, I cannot wait to live in a house again. I cannot wait for the first time I’ll think of a poem I love that I haven’t thought of in a while and feel like reading, or of a poem I admire that I know can help me on a point of craft in one of my own poems, and then I’ll turn around, and walk over to my bookshelves, and find the book where the poem lives, and pull it down off the shelf, and open it in my own two hands. And there that poem will be. Bliss.

save me Meanwhile, can we talk about Emily Dickinson? Thank you. Because yesterday, Open Culture ran a story with the following headline: “Emily Dickinson’s Handwritten Coconut Cake Recipe Hints at How Baking Figured Into Her Creative Process.” The article quotes the Dickinson Museum website which says:

The kitchen appears to be one of the rooms where [Emily] Dickinson felt most comfortable, perhaps most at home.” But the “many drafts of poems written on kitchen papers tell us also that this was a space of creative ferment for her, and that the writing of poetry mixed in her life with the making of delicate treats.”

Then goes on to point out a poem drafted on the back of a recipe for coconut cake: “Presumably the recipe inspired the poem.” [*raises eyebrow]

I’m going to call this romanticizing. Yes, Emily Dickinson—who once wrote “God keep me from what they call households”—spent a lot of time in the kitchen. She was a woman living in the 1800s, after all. Said the woman living in the 2010s who also spends a lot of time in the kitchen. Ahem.

I don’t think this necessarily means the kitchen was a place of creative ferment for her. More likely, in my opinion, scraps of language and ideas for poems followed her everywhere, including to the kitchen, where she would jot them down on anything that was available. Just like I do. Just like Edward Hirsch talks about writing in the car while waiting for his son to finish soccer practice. Just like Ray Carver is said to have written in the car so he could get out of the house and hear himself think. Was the car a place of creative ferment for these writers? Or were they just fitting their writing into their lives wherever and whenever they could? Just like we all sometimes stop in the grocery store aisle to jot down notes for a poem. At the basketball game. At the doctor’s office. In the middle of the night. &c.

[Okay, so I got that off my chest. Thanks.]

form again  I’m still thinking a lot about form in free verse poetry. Here are a few snippets from this week’s reading:

“Let chaos storm! / Let cloud shapes swarm! / I wait for form.” —Robert Frost (Poor Frost! and I mean that in the best possible way). From the Frost Friends website.

Robert Hass on the technical authority in the photographs of Ansel Adams and Robert Adams: “The source of that authority is mysterious to me. But it is that thing in their images that, when you look at them, compels you to keep looking. I think it’s something to do with the formal imagination.” From What Light Can Do.

And Susan Stewart on form (this is a paraphrase): Our creation myths are all about formlessness coming into form. Think of Genesis: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. Thus giving form to things becomes an act of creation. From Poetry and the Fate of the Senses.

Yet how much room for memory  Someone shared a Hart Crane poem on Twitter earlier this week, and I fell in love with it, so I thought I’d share it with you. It’s called “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” and you can read it at the Poetry Foundation website. Aside from its many other wonderful traits, this poem made me realize anew how a tiny point of craft can have enormous power. I’m looking at the way he set the name Elizabeth out by giving it its own line. The effect of this for me is that it doubles as a beckoning, a form of direct address to Elizabeth, the speaker’s grandmother. I don’t think it would feel that way if it had come at the end of the line above where it sits on it’s own.

Have a wonderful Friday and thanks for reading.

friday roundup: make the words for me

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One of *those* weeks. Nothing flowing. Feeling uninspired. Can’t seem to pay attention reading. Can’t seem to string together a coherent thought. There are weeks like that. I’ve learned to chalk them up and just fold the socks. So just a few little snippets today, including something…

…from the archives  I was looking for a particular quote last night, and figuring I’d probably shared it here at some point, I searched my olds posts for it. Didn’t find it, but I came across this gem, which, after the dead-endedness of the week, gives me no small measure of comfort. I give you Mary Ruefle:

“I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, ‘I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I want to say’; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.”

Yeeeeessssssssss. From Madness, Rack, and Honey.

on form  I’ve been reading (or trying to read) and thinking (or trying to think) about my critical thesis for my MFA program. In a moment of enthusiasm last spring, I decided I’d write about form in free verse poetry. While I am actually really interested in this topic, right now it feels like a brick wall that I’m hitting my head against. This too shall pass. Meanwhile, I’m collecting little bits of what other writers have said about form. Here are a few that I’m particularly fond of:

“If goals create content / stealth creates form” —Fanny Howe (not sure I agree, btw)

“Something that you feel will find its own form.”—Jack Kerouac (also not sure I agree)

Form is “the organization of experience from the manifold of sensation.” —Alice Fulton quoting Kant (this one I can go in for)

“Love buries these ghost forms within us.”—Frank Bidart (now we’re cookin’)

“[W]hatever is said / in the world, or forgotten / or not said, makes a form.”—Robert Creeley (officially in love)

make the words for me  Amidst my trying to read, it is always a poem that pulls me in, wakes me up, makes me pay attention. Here’s one that did the job this week: Rachel Hadas’ “Codex Minor.”

I love the richness of the language and images, and how they swirl and eddy around and back on each other. I love the rhymes tucked in here and there. I love the way it begins and unfolds in what seems like a deep psychic space, a quiet interior monologue, and then opens out into, perhaps, a memory(?), at any rate a physical place on the earth, and ends in something spoken, a question no less.

And most of all I love this line: “I have no song, bird. Make the words for me.”

Bird, wherever you are, make the words for me, too.

Thanks for reading. I wish you a clear mind, many poems, and a happy weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

tracings

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 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:

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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).

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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: squalor, sad poems, and blackberries

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This  may or may not have been the scene at my writing desk for most of yesterday.

Dear Reader, it’s Friday again. I’m dashing this off early because later this morning I’m going to see the Bonnards at the Legion of Honor. (!!!!!!!!!) Bonnard is one of my favorite painters of all time. I’ve lost track of whole days paging through books of his paintings, and now I get to go see Real Live Bonnards With My Own Eyes. I can hardly believe it. Isn’t this life amazing?

But first, the roundup:

squalor  n. a state of being extremely dirty and unpleasant, especially as a result of poverty or neglect; from Latin squalere, “be dirty.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about squalor this week. This is because a meme has been circulating on Facebook with a quote from J.K. Rowling on how she was able to be a mother and write a book. The quote, which I believe comes from this interview, is this:

“(P)eople very often say to me, “How did you do it? How did you raise a baby and write a book?” and the answer is, I didn’t do housework for four years! I’m not Superwoman, and living in squalor that was the answer.”

At first I felt a little rush of jubliation: Oh, it’s okay if I neglect all the housework and just write for four years, because this is how you get a book written! But almost immediately, I thought, Ick, I don’t want to live in squalor. Maybe I won’t be able to write a book. I’m by no means a neat-freak, but at the Wee, Small House we all work together to keep the place relatively clean and tidy. Because I want my home to be peaceful and welcoming and relatively clean and tidy. I feel like June Cleaver when I say that, but it’s true. I don’t do well in squalor or anything near it; it distracts me and makes me miserable.

Then my larger-minded self reminded me of a few things:

  1. Memes are not the answer. They are often clever, funny, wise, and/or insightful, but they are not the answer.
  2. I have already written a book, although I have not yet found a publisher for it, and I did it without living in squalor.
  3. Yes, if you want to write a book you’ll have to make tradeoffs.
  4. Every writer gets to decide what her own tradeoffs are. J.K. Rowling was willing to live in squalor; that’s what worked for her. My tradeoffs are usually made in the economies of sleep, time with friends, and the nature of the meals we eat (hello, grilled cheese and tomato soup, once again).
  5. And then, yes, sometimes the writing gets short shrift because of life, life, sewing ribbons and elastics on your daughter’s pointe shoes, and life. To quote Sarah Ruhl: “Life, by definition, is not an intrusion.”

So, friendly reminder: You can write a book. You will have to make tradeoffs. You get to decide what the tradeoffs are. You will find a way to do it that works for you. You don’t have to live in squalor (although you may choose to). Life is not an intrusion. Amen.

sad poems  I am often drawn to the darker pockets of life in my writing, because those are the pockets of life I’m trying to understand. I understand the joys, but I need to probe the sadnesses for their meaning. Sometimes I worry that if people knew me only through my poems, they’d think I was sad, conflicted, and skeptical to the hilt. That’s why I was so happy to come across a short piece by Kelli Russell Agodon this week on the topic of sad poems. She writes about why she’s drawn to dark subjects in her poems, and shares a poem by Linda Pastan that can be everyone’s answer for why we write sad poems. The essay is here; go read it.

blackberries  I’ve been spending a lot of time with one poem this week as I attempt, so far unsuccessfully, to tame my essay on Larry Levis and the elegy. I’ve been spending a lot of time with one line of the poem in particular: A word is elegy to what it signifies.

If you know this line, you’ll know it’s from Robert Hass‘ “Meditation at Lagunitas,” one of his best-known poems. I’ve read a couple different things (the actual sources are lost in the fogs of memory) over the years that kind of criticize this poem as too romantic, or too simplistic, or whatever. I don’t know. I remember coming across it years ago, before I knew who Robert Hass was and before I knew much contemporary poetry, and really loving it. And for me it’s a poem that I learn something new from each time I spend time with it. I still love it, still learn from it. Here it is for you to enjoy.

I wish you the best of tradeoffs and blackberries in triplicate. Thanks for reading!

 

friday roundup: gaps, a finding place, and “The Last Move”

Reader, I am trying to write an essay about the work of Larry Levis.

This feels like an impossible task since so much has already been written about the work of Larry Levis, and because his work is so singular and, well, completely amazing.

I’m trying to write about the shape of his poems and his unique handling of the elegy.

I’m trying to do this during a stretch of time that has included only two full days of school in two weeks (“ski week,” half-day, late start, another half-day…).

It struck me a day or two ago: this is why I cook. Because it’s not hard. Because I can do it with one hand tied behind my back and any number of children doing any number of things in the near vicinity. Because I am actually good at it.

May I recommend, Reader, always having something you are good at in your back pocket while you are attempting the impossible.

Anyway… on to the roundup.

gaps  In attempting to write about the shape of Larry Levis’ poems, I’ve been thinking and reading about form. I turned to the venerable old work horse “Some Notes on Organic Form” by Denise Levertov. Her argument is basically that the perception of an experience that triggers a poem, and the form of the poem itself, are inextricably linked. In Levertov’s framework, the poet discovers the form of a poem in the process of its making. Formal elements are put in place because of the demands of the content. She says:

“Form is never more than a revelation of content.”

This all makes sense to me, and has accompanied my thinking on form since I first read the essay many years ago. But what didn’t stay with me was the last bit of the essay, which I’ve now rediscovered:

“(T)here must be a place in the poem for rifts too —(never to be stuffed with imported ore). Great gaps between perception and perception which must be leapt across if they are to be crossed at all.”

I think one of the things I love best about poetry is leaping across the gaps.

a finding place  Someone posted a quote about poetry from Jeannette Winterson on Facebook yesterday, so then I had to go find where the quote came from, and Reader, I found gold. You can find gold, too; it is right here.

What you’ll find is Winterson’s essay on the necessity of poetry, through an exploration of T. S. Eliot’s work. Here are my favorite nuggets:

” So when people say that poetry is merely a luxury for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read much at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language—and that’s what poetry is. That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is.”

And

“Art lasts because it gives us a language for our inner reality… .”

And

“Pain is often a maimed creature without a mouth. Through the agency of the poem that is powerful enough to clarifying (sic?) feelings into facts, I am no longer dumb, not speechless, not lost. Language is a finding place, not a hiding place.”

That’s my favorite bit right there: Language is a finding place.

“The Last Move”  And speaking of finding places… . Fans of fairy tales will know there’s a whole group of stories that scholars believe came into being to help ease courtship anxieties. “The Robber Bridegroom” is a prime example—yeah, the one where bride narrowly escapes being chopped up and eaten by her groom and his buddies. And then there’s “Bluebeard.”

I’ve recently come across a poem along similar themes that I feel should be in the canon. It’s from Ada Limón‘s Bright Dead Things.

You must read it: here.

Suffice it to say, I’ll never look at a water tank in the same way again.

Thanks for reading!

 

friday roundup: the first fact of the world, exile, and the only warm thing for miles

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Happy Friday! It’s “ski week” in the Peninsula Town, so I haven’t spent much time at my desk this week. A hike in the foothills, a trip to the city, many hours snuggling on the couch reading The Tale of Despereaux, and—let’s be real—settling arguments amongst siblings, reminding people to take out their laundry and put their dishes in the dishwasher… this is how I’ve spent my week. No complaints. Now on to the roundup:

the first fact of the world  I’ve slowly been making my way through Robert Hass‘s essay collection, Twentieth Century Pleasures. I’ve read some of these essays before, but it’s been a while and a re-visit seemed needful.

I’ve also been reading poems (Larry Levis, James Wright, Frances Leviston, Chase Twichell) with an eye to trajectories: What is the journey of this poem, and how is the journey implemented?  What are its structures and formal properties?

In Hass’s “On Form,” he writes: “The first fact of the world is that it repeats itself.” He argues that, from our earliest days, “we are clued into the hope of a shapeliness of things”—hunger felt, then satisfied; the school bus coming along right on time.

But what is form in an era of poetry dominated by free verse? It’s so much harder to define than a certain number of lines, with a certain metrical pattern, and a certain rhyme scheme.

Hass defines it this way: The form of a poem is “the shape of its understanding”; it “exists in the relation between its music and its seeing.”

Not exactly a step-by-step guide for finding a poem’s best form, but worth thinking about… .

exile  n. 1. the state of being barred from one’s native country, typically for political or punitive reasons. 2. a person who lives away from their native country, either from choice or compulsion.

I’ve also been dipping in and out of Speaking and Language: Defence of Poetry by Paul Goodman. Regarding why he writes poetry, Goodman says:

“I am in exile. Like everybody else, I live in a world that is given to me—I am thankful for it. It is not made by me—and that too is very well. But it is not my native home; therefore I make poems.”

Goodman writes of a spiritual exile, of course, and I’m not entirely comfortable with using the concept of exile vis-a-vis art-making in a world when so many people are in actual, physical exile, and/or are risking their lives to achieve it. But his words resonate with me, and have me thinking about of poetry as a means to reconcile ourselves to the world, to ourselves, and to each other.

Each poem a little bridge, a little patch, a little healing, a little closer to home.

the only warm thing for miles  Speaking of home, it’s that time of year when those who live in winter climes are beginning to doubt that spring will ever arrive. While I’m leaving my house in a light sweater and enjoying the earliest-blooming trees, I remember well that slightly crazed doubt, and I miss the way the sharp edges of changing seasons can mirror our inner lives. A friend sent me this poem by Danez Smith; you could call it an argument for winter:

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I’M GOING BACK TO MINNESOTA WHERE SADNESS MAKES SENSE by Danez Smith

 

O California, don’t you know the sun is only a god
if you learn to starve for him? I’m bored with the ocean

I stood at the lip of it, dressed in down, praying for snow
I know, I’m strange, too much light makes me nervous

at least in this land where the trees always bear green.
I know something that doesn’t die can’t be beautiful.

Have you ever stood on a frozen lake, California?
The sun above you, the snow & stalled sea—a field of mirror

all demanding to be the sun too, everything around you
is light & it’s gorgeous & if you stay too long it will kill you

& it’s so sad, you know? You’re the only warm thing for miles
& the only thing that can’t shine.

(originally published in Michigan Quarterly Review)

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Stay warm, Reader, stay warm. And thanks for reading.