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.

from the notebooks

FullSizeRender 28

I love to look at artists’ notebooks. ^^Here^^ is mine. (Well, actually, I prefer to look at the insides of the notebooks, but sorry, this one’s still too fresh to bare).

It is a messy place, scuffed, tagged, dog-eared, x’d out, scrawled across. I’m against making the notebook a sacred place. I’m in favor of messes.

When I start a new notebook, I always write this quote from Robert Hass inside the front cover, even though I don’t really believe it: “Take the time to write. You can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.”

It’s the half an hour part that I don’t believe.

But you can do at at least some of your life’s work in half an hour a day, so there’s that.

Here are some snippets from my notebook, selected at random:

//

“Over again I feel thy finger and find thee” Hopkins… Deutschland

//

Lament for Untitled

//

Also, that Goya painting.

//

(Imitating Wright, god help me)

//

3/15/2017 ( and you? )

//

wing
broken wing
snapped wing
snapped wing of your doubt

//

S-P as a Paper Boat

//

Also: the moon as ashen

//

bleh
bleh bleh bleh

Note: written below attempts at poems

//

A.R. Ammons “A Tree Full of Cleavage Bared Branching”—one word from it: chantless

//

papery->chartaceous(!), tissue, parchment

//

flange
rail
cringe
blear
share (as n.)
unchild
shoal
vault
reeve

//

From Linda Gregg’s poem “Blake”:

“I am finished with knife and window / My bed will be underground soon enough. / I will persist in this impermanence / that flesh holds. The body smooth, / the voices speaking within.”

word therapy

photograph_with_caption_-birdseye_view_of_cofferdam_looking_down_river_from_liberty_peak_at_beginnng_of_ice-_-_nara_-_282420

Photo credit: U.S. National Archives

Sometimes when I feel hopeless, stressed, scared, overwhelmed…, I just write a list of words and then I feel better:

alluvial, lisp, litany, undertow, carve, abide, message

There.

I hope you feel better now, too

 

thesis-ing

img_7994

The word thesis is from Latin thesis, meaning “unaccented syllable in poetry”; later (and more correctly), “stressed part of a metrical foot,” from Greek thesis “a proposition”; also “downbeat” (in music), originally “a setting down, a placing, an arranging…” from root tithenai “to place, put, set.”

I find this only mildly comforting.

Now back to thesis-ing…

on dormancy

 

Wild_purple_Iris_on_the_Kodiak_Archipelago,_Alaska_2009_200

dormant adj.

(of an animal) having normal physical functions suspended or slowed down for a period of time; in or as if in a deep sleep.

• (of a plant or bud) alive but not actively growing.

• (of a volcano) temporarily inactive.

• (of a disease) causing no symptoms but not cured and liable to recur.

[ usu. postpositive ] Heraldry (of an animal) depicted lying with its head on its paws.

*

I had not intended to let this site go quite so dormant this summer. I suppose I use here the “of a volcano” type of dormancy: temporarily inactive.

The good news is that my writing life has not been dormant. I’ve spent many mornings at my not-desk, thanks to my mom who set up a cozy little writing space in her basement for me while we were at her house, and thanks to sheer determination in other locations—at my aunt’s and uncle’s dining room table while Eldest Son slept on the floor a few feet away; at my MFA residency; at the kitchen table in the crappy (if I do say so myself) corporate apartment we’re now living in while we wait for our house to be move-in-able.

I’m hoping to get back to a more regular posting pattern soon, but until then, here’s a favorite poem about dormancy:

*

THE WILD IRIS by Louise Glück

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.

*

makeshifting

IMG_6749

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 roundup: squalor, sad poems, and blackberries

IMG_6366

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: more silence

 

Hello, Reader and happy Friday. I am still on my silence kick… #sorrynotsorry. Here goes the roundup:

what silence can do   This week I’m in the process of reading several texts on silence:

These are all very academic texts and, while fascinating, they don’t speak to what I want to know about silence. What I want to know is this: Philosophy aside, aesthetics aside, linguistics aside, what can silence do in a poem?

Rae Armantrout has some answers for us in this essay. She writes that silence can (and I am paraphrasing):

  • admit mistakes
  • concede personal limits, or finitude
  • indicate the presence of the ineffable
  • concede the presence of another
  • wait for an unknown response
  • hover at an edge or boundary
  • straddle the border of statement and non-statement, consequence and inconsequence

Quoting Max Picard, she notes that silences in poetry can ” ‘leave a clear space into which another can speak’.”

She also argues that what she calls “the lyric format” (as opposed to prose or prose-like , declarative poems) has a greater potential for evoking silence, then looks closely at several poems and how their particular silences are achieved: for example, by minimizing grammatical connections, ending lines abruptly or unexpectedly, deliberately creating the effect of inconsequence, and/or using white space strategically.

So all these ideas about silence—both the lofty and the nuts-and-bolts-y—are rolling through my mind as I continue to be relatively silent at my desk, writing stillborn lines, false starts, and silences.

what haunts  And just in time, just when the stillborn lines, false starts, and silences begin to feel overwhelming, a quote comes along that helps me to reframe and start again. This morning on Facebook, the poet Kelly Cressio-Moeller shared this gem from Rita Dove:

“I don’t want to be looking around for something interesting to make a poem out of. That should not be the impulse behind a poem. That’s not why you do it. You do it because it haunts you, and you write to discover what it has new to say to you.”

The quote is from this interview.

I know what I’ll be doing just after finishing this roundup: I’ll be making a list of things that haunt me.

 

Persephone, with silences  Here is a poem by one of my favorite poets of silence, Jean Gallagher. I hope you enjoy it.

IMG_6274.jpg

Thanks for reading. May you be haunted. May all your silences reach down much further in the dark.