Happy Friday, all. Sometimes I hate it when I’m right (although, I confess, not very often). From all indications, I was right last week when I said I was through my quota of Normal Weeks for the year. It’s back to nursing the sick and brokenhearted, orthodontia ad infinitum, and setting (very) early alarms in the hopes of having some poetry time each day. Sometimes I get tired of the effort it takes to fit poetry into small and hard-won slivers of time. But a few things I read consoled me this week. I share them with you:
From Tiger to Prayer Early in my poetry adventures, I was lucky to learn from Deborah Keenan. She is a wonderful poet, teacher, and human being. It was Deborah who taught me how to really work as a poet — how to read the work of other poets and use those poems as springboards into my own work. Her signature exhortation to “get a grip” is always ringing in my ears. “Get a grip” — on your work, on what’s important in it. “Get a grip” — on what poems (of your own, of others) are crucial for you, of what the world needs you to say as a poet. “Get a grip” — a grasp, a hold of; gain purchase, traction; an understanding of, an awareness of; a travel bag. Yes.
This week Deborah arrived as if an angel in my mailbox in the form of her book of writing prompts From Tiger to Prayer. In classic Deborah-style, these are not your everyday writing prompts such as “Write a poem in which you’re a character in your favorite movie,” or, “Write a poem under the title of a newspaper headline from today’s paper.” These prompts go deeper. They speak to your particular voice as a poet. They are rich enough to return to over and over again. A few examples:
“‘Tiger’ — one poem. ‘Tigers’ — one poem. Singular and plural. This alone can carry you for years as a poet.”
“Write a page full of poetry, sweeping horizontal lines. Repeatedly fold it. I mean it. Fold it vertically, horizontally, diagonally, like an old-fashioned paper fan — understand where the poems are waiting based on the folds.”
“Look for the poems in the world that seem to have been written so that you can write the companion poem. Then write those poems.”
You can buy this spectacular, small, and beautiful book from broadcraftpress.
Big P Whatever you’re doing right now, stop. And go immediately to Gulf Coast‘s website to buy a copy of their current issue. Aside from all the good writing between the covers, you will find an essay by Tony Hoagland, “12 Things I know about the Life of Poetry.” Here are some gems from within:
“You can learn more from reading a single book of good poems over and over than from rushing through a shelf full… . You can learn more artistically from reading a single poem many times with great attentiveness, than from reading incidentally encountered poem after poem.”
Make a “conscious and deliberate, overt, voiced commitment to the humanist soul-preserving agenda of poetry.”
“You have to love Poetry more than Your Poetry… . When I am bent, and poor, and pathetic, and in need of restoration, I go back to Big P.”
Let the people say, Amen. There is so much more in this essay — including hot springs, Ferris wheels, fear and trembling, motorcycle gangs, churches, and all your old girlfriends and boyfriends. You must read it.
haying As for me, when I am bent, and poor, and pathetic, and in need of restoration, and behind on the papers due for my MFA program, and tired of trying to fit a life of poetry into small and unpredictable slivers of time, I go back to Certain Poems. One of my Certain Poems is “haying” by Deborah Digges, from her posthumous collection The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart. This poem reminds me of why poetry claimed me. It reminds me about attention. And riches — the treasure of language. It reminds me to find the words that belong to a particular poem. It reminds me why I will never stop finding small and unpredictable slivers of time, of why I’m writing papers in the first place.
You can click here — Haying-DeborahDigges — to revel in her language and attention.
And you can listen to her read it here, but be prepared to weep at the way her voice is both strong and delicate — the way it both holds fast to, and slips off of, each word.
I will do the same, then pull myself together and wash the dishes, write some papers, wipe the brow of a small one resting on the couch. Amen.