friday roundup (sort of) with a body and a rough net

Hello, reader, it’s been a while.

Summer has come and gone, the kids are in school, and—now that I’ve finished my MFA—some days I have time to do nothing for a while.

A short while.

The other day, I put up corn and tomatoes with my aunt. We blanched them, then cooled them in a cold water bath, cleaned (corn) and diced (tomatoes), then put them in containers for freezing. It reminded me of the importance of sometimes doing things that allow me to be just in my body, to take a break from what’s caught in the rough net of my mind.

I love the phrase “cold water bath.”

Most days I’m busy reading, writing, editing book reviews for The Rumpus, sending out poems and manuscripts of poems, looking for work, taking people to the orthodontist, making dinner, dropping off and picking up from ballet, etc.

I’ve been writing only small things. A list of words, a phrase, a grammatical construction: “The (n.) is what the (n.) (v.).” “Where (n.) (v.) you can find a way to (v.).” “I say (x) so as not to say (y).”

I’ve been casting about for something to read that will (get ready to laugh with me) Finally Make Sense of Everything Once and For All, that will (as I think of it) save me: a book of poems, just one poem, a couplet, a line, one word, rafter, loiter, femur, blanch.

Did you know the technical term for a joint (the kind in our bodies) is articulation? We say that one bone “articulates” with another where they join. Did you know that, amongst other things, articulate means “to divide into distinct parts”? Isn’t it odd that we use a word that means “to divide” to indicate a joining? From the Latin articulare, “to separate into joints,” from articulus, “a part, a member, a joint,” also, “a knuckle, the article in grammar.” A knuckle(!). Did you know that, amongst the many architectural (as opposed to corporeal) joints, there is one called birdsmouth. BIRDSMOUTH(!!!).

[This, by the way, is how one word can Finally Make Sense of Everything Once and For All, can save someone, at least for a while. A short while.].

I’ve been listening to the Commonplace Podcast while folding laundry, chopping onions, sewing ribbons on pointe shoes, ripping out ribbons from pointe shoes because they need to be repositioned, sewing ribbons on pointe shoes again (true story). If you’ve never listened, I recommend it enthusiastically. Rachel Zucker has interviewed poets (and some other people) and recorded their conversations. There are many gems for poetry, the writing life, and for all of life, really, in these interviews, and I’m grateful for the way they catch in my mind’s net and pass the time while I am in my body, folding, chopping, sewing on, ripping out, and sewing on again.

I’ve been reading women poets along with other poets and readers of poetry on Twitter. If you’re looking for books by women poets, search the hashtag #SeptWomenPoets and you will find treasure. This project is the brainchild of Shara Lessley. It’s been fun to read and tweet along.

Here’s a poem from one of the books I’ve read this month, which also happens to be by someone from my old writing group (during my California days): Even Years by Christine Gosnay (Kent State University Press, 2017). There is a particular joy in reading the poems of a friend and colleague, poems that you read when they were just born and solitary things, poems that you’ve watched grow up and begin to join together in constellations of theme and thought, poems that are now bound in a book.

*

AKADEMOS by Christine Gosnay

I give my daughter the name Hypatia, tell her
the monks pulled Hypatia through the streets
and sewed her back together. I give my daughter

an astrolabe and tell her ships baste slit-
seams in the ocean to snag falling bodies.

Earlier, white stones fell from my hands
and landed on the road
until I could not see one stone.

I give my daughter a body and a rough net,
tell her to straighten her back and be ready
to weave the welkin sphere that bleeds

skeleton-blue and gray. I give my daughter
eyes and a sky.
I give my daughter a long, bright day.

My daughter carries a harpoon. She drifts
the sea with her barb the size of a needle.

Sea full of bodies, she sings, stalling. Then bends
her back, out she climbs. Oyster shells
bunched in her net.

*

Happy weekend, thanks for reading.

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

Reader, this is my desk right now:

IMG_6598

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: silences and hands edition

Hello, reader. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about silence.

silence n. 1. complete absence of sound. 2. the fact or state of abstaining from speech > the avoidance of mentioning or discussing something. v. 1. make silent. 2. fit with a silencer.

From the from Latin silentium “a being silent,” from silens, present participle of silere “be quiet or still,” of unknown origin.

I’ve been thinking about two different forms of silence:

silence the first The first is that silence that sometimes descends upon a writer. I’m in the midst of one of these silences now—nothing’s flowing and the stillborn lines are piling up in my notebook.

How fitting, in this case,  that at its deepest root silence is “of unknown origin.”

These silence are always excruciating, and when I’m in the midst of one I always make sure to remind myself that I’m not the only one who has hit quiet patches. Here’s Louise Glück in her essay “Education of the Poet”:

“I have wished, since I was in my early teens, to be a poet; over a period of more than thirty years, I have had to get through extended silences. By silences I mean periods, sometimes two years in duration, during which I have written nothing. Not written badly, written nothing. Nor do such periods feel like fruitful dormancy.”

I also remind myself of the things I do to keep moving forward amidst the silence and stillborn lines:

  • read, and while I’m reading,
  • write down lines grab my attention
  • work in my lexicon
  • copy poems I love into my notebook by hand
  • keep adding to my lists
  • look back in my notebooks (often I will find a line or a fragment that shakes something loose in me)
  • accept the obstacle in the path as the path: rather than write, revise, send out poems, do other writerly things that are not writing
  • write anyway (I have been this time)
  • read a lot of craft essays…

…which brings me to:

silence the second  The other silence I’ve been thinking about is the silence of the unsaid in a poem. My favorite poems are so often those that don’t hand over everything, that use silence as a tool, that suggest rather than declare. Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Snowman” ends with this stanza:

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

The kind of silence I’m thinking about is “the nothing that is.” A silence that makes itself felt in the poem, a bodied silence. Conveniently, Louise Glück also writes about this kind of silence in her essay “Disruption, Hesitation, Silence”:

“The unsaid for me exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made from this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen; for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied.”

Yes, this is what I want to do with silence in my poems. Not that I know how. Glück also writes:

“All earthly experience is partial.”

If you have favorite poems that employ a felt silence, I hope you’ll share them in comments.

P.S.  Both of the Glück essays referred to are in her book Proofs & Theories.

hands  O, hands. Having a certain, long-standing relationship with inflammatory arthritis (thank you, Lupus), I have a very fraught relationship with hands. Especially my own hands. I will never forget this exchange with one of my doctors years ago:

Him: Do you drop things?
Me: Yes.
Him: Hopefully not the baby!
Silence

But recently I read Aracelis Girmay‘s book Kingdom Animalia. This poet has taken hold of hands, and her hands, and all hands. There are so many hands in her poems, that I began to love hands in a whole new way. I love it when a poet takes possession of something like this. Also: read this book. It is so good. Anyway, one of my favorite poems in the book is called “Portrait of the Woman as a Skein.” It’s a long poem in sections, and sadly I’ve not been able to find a version that’s link-to-able online. So I’m going to give you one section of it, and I think you will see why I love this book:

*

from PORTRAIT OF THE WOMAN AS A SKEIN

Last night, the dream of you standing
in the doorway like a lighthouse
calling for your hands to come back
home, & from a great distance, them
running towards you, two
children or two dogs. What scared you then,
you also called it beautiful—
the way their breath flew out of them like clouds,
the way they reached the dark yard panting & stood
deciding between the body & the woods.

*

Between the body and the woods. Oh my goodness.

Have a wonderful weekend, reader, and may all your silences have the power of ruins. Thanks for reading!

friday roundup: poetry? what is poetry? edition

“Wheat Field” by Van Gogh (wikimedia)

Hello, Reader. Happy first Friday in June. I woke up this morning wondering what I could say about poetry today.

Poetry? I said to myself, What is poetry? It sounds familiar but…

This week, I can tell you a lot about end-of-year nuttiness at school; giving choices to the Resident Teenager about returning his science textbook (“You can take it in yourself today, or you can forget again, in which case, I will take it in tomorrow and you will pay me for my troubles. I charge $60/hour in half-hour minimum increments.”); how in California you can, apparently, get a sunburn at 8:30 in the morning while attending 5th grade “graduation” (for those who may not realize this: it’s actually impossible to get a sunburn at 8:30 in the morning in the midwest); how I tried to fit in one million errands and appointments before the end of the school year. Which is today.

There has not been a lot of poetry going on around here.

So I’m going to share a few things other, more qualified people have said about poetry. I like to collect definitions of what a poem is and/or what poetry is. Here are a few of my favorites:

““If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I knowthat is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?” —Emily Dickinson

A poem is “a small (or large) machine made out of words.” —William Carlos Williams

Poetry is “an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.” —Mary Oliver 

“(P)rose—words in their best order; poetry—the best words in the best order.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” —Rita Dove

“Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life.” —June Jordan

“The poem is a plank laid over the lion’s den.” —James K. Baxter

“To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” —Galway Kinnell

And now for one of the very few poems I read this week (how my heart hurts to say that), with thanks to Kelly Cressio-Moeller, my poetry partner-in-crime, for pointing me to it.

Here is “The Field” by Christopher DeWeese published in The Atlas Review.

And happy summer vacation!