friday roundup: to sound through, apocalyptic poetry, and “They fall from my life”

I want to be the Woman with the Cracked Face. P.S. Don't they look heavy? from wikimedia

I want to be the Woman with the Cracked Face. P.S. Don’t they look heavy? from wikimedia

Reader,

Um, wow. That week went by fast.

This morning at the Wee, Small House, there was a frenzied search for a “white elephant” gift for the 5th grade gift exchange, a moment of panic during which I wondered if I was supposed to provide gifts for the 3rd and 1st grade gift exchanges (I chose ignorance, which is bliss), and a spirited debate between Husband and I about where to set up the annual Christmastime jigsaw puzzle:

Me: Can I set it up on the card table in front of the fireplace?
Him: No.
Me: Grrrrrrrr!
Him: (furiously searching Google for “puzzle boards”)

I confess, I actually growled. We are, as yet, undecided. But now, on to the roundup:

to sound through I’ve been thinking a lot about persona poems lately. Partly because I still have several Mail Order Bride poems that aren’t quite done (if you have know idea what I’m talking about, read here, here, and here). Also because I’ve been working through a series of persona poems around the Demeter/Persephone myth. And also because two more personae, who I’m not quite ready to talk about yet, are knocking at my door and demanding to be let in. Sigh.

According to my sources, the etymology of the word persona is a bit murky, but may have come from the Latin personare which means “to sound through” — as in the masks used in ancient Greek and Roman theater to amplify voices on stage (world’s first PA system, see photo above). I like this idea of the poet’s voice and experience “sounding through” whatever persona the poet is working within. For myself, I think the most effective persona poems are those that effectively marry a universal (or nearly universal) truth of human experience with the known (from myth or legend *or — I’m just realizing I should’ve added — history &/or current events)) or imagined truth of the persona. For more persona poem reading, here’s an essay by Jeannine Hall Gailey on the use of personae by Lucille Clifton, Louise Gluck, and Margaret Atwood. I found it thought-provoking and insightful.

apocalyptic poetry Well, it appears that the Oreo Cookie was right — here we are. But over at Escape Into Life, Kathleen Kirk has curated a poetry feature around the theme World Without End. I’m honored to be part of the feature; mine’s the last poem down, but don’t skip because the art and the rest of the poems are fantastico. I confess, I’m totally jealous of Karen Weyant’s disco poem — why didn’t I think of that? Thanks to Kathleen for this timely feature.

[I pause here because I feel the need to apologize for linking to so many of my own poems. Normally, I’m not so self-referential.]

“They fall from my life…” Reader, this week I read a poem that took the top of my head off. I can’t find it anywhere online, so I’m going to hope the gods and goddesses of fair use will have mercy on me if I print it here. Because it’s amazing. Here it is:

*

Ovarian Tree by Olena Kalytiak Davis

All night the dull ache
of an overripe dream: a room
swollen with women — Look
at their hands, their hair, fern-like,
falling —
bouquet’s of adder’s tongue
hung by the root —
falling
in a gravity that rests so low
it drags on my heart, bends
down these boughs; the hysteria
of hands and hair and gravity
and a beauty so rare
it is familiar: Look
at their waists, that’s how they bend.
Look at their wounds, that’s where
their children play. They fall
from my life until
there are no women left,
only children pulling at berries, and berries dropping
and dreaming of a new blossoming

When I’m awake, I’ll call this curvature of the soul a state.
When I’m awake, (where are the women?)
I will have forgotten.

*

I am so wowed by the imaginative leap that turns ovaries and fallopian tubes into an ecosystem — a room full of women; hands and hair and plants and roots and boughs; that low-resting gravity. This poem comes from Davis’ book And Her Soul Out of Nothing, which I’ve been reading and loving (and learning a lot from). Buy it here.

Also, I love that in her bio on the Poetry Foundation website she says her life is:

“mostly, getting my children raised, or just dressed: finding two  matching socks, making sea creature mobiles, reading The Magic School Bus and Moby Dick to them, sweeping over and under the mess, including scraps of construction paper and scraps of the western canon.”

OMG, my life too!!!!!! 🙂

And now, Reader, I am Behind on Everything. And it Might Rain (I’ve intuited that the phrase “Might Rain” is always capitalized in California). And, yes, the most wonderful time of the year, etc., etc., etc. So I’ll sign off, but not before wishing you a wonderful and restful weekend and holiday. See you back here soon.

friday roundup: the perfect date, we’re all beginners, and “List of First Lines”

Sputter, gasp. Here we are on Friday’s shore. This week, there was a birthday at the Wee, Small house. The celebrated one really loves to celebrate. He had elaborate plans, and many menu requests. I had to draw the line somewhere, so I chose to draw it right after Boston cream pie, and right before miniature cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches in all different shapes. “Cookie cutters, Mom!” said he. I’m not sure when making a birthday cake became a Herculean task, but I think it was somewhere between Child 2 and Child 3. At any rate, it was a wonderful (and delicious) birthday. On to the roundup:

the perfect date  A couple weeks ago, Husband and I went on the perfect date. We started at the Goodwill store in one of the nearby fancy peninsula towns (our own, dear Peninsula Town is not nearly so fancy). If you go to the Goodwill store in a fancy peninsula town, you can get designer clothing dirt cheap. I didn’t actually buy anything this time around, but it was fun to browse, especially because the store’s background music was square out of the 1970s (summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowin’ through the jasmine in my miiiiiiiiiiinnnnd). Next stop was the used book store (um, maybe I should’ve titled this “the second-hand date”) with a whole wall devoted to poetry. Of course, at a used bookstore you usually only find the rock stars and then a volume of poems by Jewel (seriously, every used book store I’ve ever entered has had a volume of poems by Jewel for sale). I was able to pick up a couple of essays I’ve been wanting — Denise Levertov’s and Adrienne Rich’s. I’ll be sure to share any jewels I find as I read through them. In the meantime, if you want a quick primer on the importance of line, go read Marie Gauthier’s post on the poetry of e-cards. I found it both hilarious and instructive.

we’re all beginners  Drew Myron has a post this week (or was it last week already? time flies) about reasons to attend a writing workshop. My very favorite one is #1 We’re All Beginners. Drew says: “Even if you’ve written a dozen novels and hundreds of poems, you start over each time you write.” The freedom of starting over every time we write is a wonderful thing. It deflates all the pressure of feeling like we must sit down with a blank page and write a masterpiece. And it also allows us to break free from what we’ve written in the past and try something new. Thanks to Drew for this reminder.

List of First Lines  Speaking of starting over, I’ve returned to this poem over and over again since I first read it in The Best American Poetry 2006. The poet, Megan Gannon, shared her process in the Contributor’s Notes: She was having a hard time writing anything. Every line seemed a false start. She stuck with it, pledging to write as many incomplete lines as it took to come up with a draft. As she wrote, she realized the incomplete lines themselves were becoming a poem. Pretty cool. Another reminder that, whatever we’re working on — a poem, a painting, miniature cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches in all different shapes — the effort is worth something. Here’s the poem:

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List of First Lines

when winter sits as if

when a wrist gives

when you pour two saucersful for

when the sifter sticks

when the window

when drifts

when fenced in, staked down, full of forgetting, bent and kissed

when, if, then

when

when spoons tarnish

when the moon removes

when, whose

when winter isn’t it — more drift, almost ash,

when half the calving’s risked for fuller hands

when kindling’s stacked, a pack pyramid — first fourteen, then thirteen inside

when itching rends a loose stitch, a stray

when the wash creaks in a cold key on the line

when to burn

when to cut what won’t brown, tie to ends, haul and hold

when water seals stone to sediment, stem to picture turns

when the kettle seethes a stream on warming hands

when the birds

when rooms split light like a bent tin

when the cabinet’s stacked, still damp or dripping, isn’t it evening

when seed scatters, buckshot-strewn, through, or threw with, this

when shadows, parceled out from edge to edge

when by the bed the loose green is gotten

when skin

when burns raw red instead of, still

when lying quiet

when told to turn

when sighing through a reed of barbed trees, try

(originally published in Third Coast)

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Well reader, we’re off to the swim team olympics, and then we’re going on a field trip that I’ll tell you all about real soon. Happy Friday, happy weekend, and thanks for reading!

we need to talk about the mail order bride

“portion of a wedding veil” public domain from wikimedia

That’s how a group conversation began last night in the writing class I’m taking.

Yes, I said, I know, I know, I’ve been dreading this.

For those just joining us, the Mail Order Bride is a persona who showed up on my poetry doorstep last fall and demanded to be let in. Here is some background info if you’re interested: this post & this post (both from my old blog). And here is one of the Mail Order Bride poems that has seen the light of day in a publication.

I’ve been worrying about the MOB, thinking she might be too overbearing to live with the rest of my poems. I’ve been trying to figure her out — what, exactly, is she helping me to explore? What is she trying to do, barging in here and taking over like this? These poems have all been drafted within the last 8 months, and I’ve struggled to articulate why they’re important and what they’re attempting to do. Yes, certainly an exploration of the joining of one life to another, but that never seemed like the whole story to me. Still, I was at a loss to articulate it for myself.

For class, we were asked to bring a stack of poems that is representative of our work and our voice. Fellow students read the poems and gave feedback. My stack included all 8 of the MOB poems, a few about motherhood, a few about illness, and a few in the style of old tales (witches and wolves and magic spells, oh my!). Finally, a chance to hear from readers who have all of the MOB poems in one stack; a chance to hear about whether or not she plays well with others.

This discussion was so helpful to me, and during the exchange of thoughts and perspectives, I think I finally learned what the MOB is all about. One of my classmates said he felt that, when viewed against the landscape of chronic illness and motherhood, the MOB poems go beyond exploring issues of marriage, and also examine the idea and experience of surrender, and of utter dependence of one person upon another.

When he said this, chills washed through me and I felt dizzy. Sometimes the body knows before the mind does. I think this reader is exactly right. Those of you who’ve been reading a while know that I have a chronic illness that recently (and after many long years of misdiagnosis and missed diagnoses) has been identified as Lupus. During the worst of it, I was utterly dependent on other people — certainly on Husband, my parents, many friends and neighbors — to take care of me and the children. It’s hard to need someone else to button your shirt and tie your shoes; to brush your hair and comfort your crying infant. There is loss, grief, fear (even panic?), and helplessness when, as an adult, your well-being is held completely in another’s hands. But there is also gratitude, a great tenderness, a deep intimacy, and love. These are the lines the Mail Order Bride is walking in all of her poems. I finally get it.

What I learned about the MOB poems will help me make them better and take them forward into the rest of my work. So, anyway, this is a very long-winded way of saying how lucky I feel to have po-friends and colleagues who will read my work and help me to learn about it for myself. And a reminder to myself (and to all the writers and artists in the readership) that we can learn so much when we share our work with others.