Wednesday, June 20, 2007

sometimes they let the poets loose

Last night, due to her mother's hospitalization and our own myriad distractions, Eireann suggested we instead take a walk downt o Minnehaha Park and write and read out loud to one another. Our general format has been to sit in a circle in her living room, discuss our reading, do a prompt, critique. Lately, we've needed a little poke, something to get us moving. I don't know if it is uncertainty, or the distractions in our lives, or that there isn't enough to say, but we've felt a little slow, a little quiet, sometimes a little like (to use a cliche), pulling teeth.

The walk was refreshing, nice movement, a little change. We took a meandering route, stopped at the edge of a Catholic grade school to listen to a bagpipe rehearsal. So many, dressed like ordinary people... I will share what I wrote from the walk, rough and raw:

The poets have been let loose in the garden
and all they can hear are bagpipes.
They come from St Helena, the Catholic
grade school, that mournful sound
that fills up rooms like chalk dust.
There are globes in the window, the sort
w all saw in childhood. And
in the parking lot, there are still more,
looking like American tourists
in tshirts and shorts, sneakered feet
shifting the formation. We are all
tourists here, in this life, and let loose,
we are startled by the raw red
of tree stumps, a collection of mallards
(how perfect the pairs), the reflection
of trees in the creek like watercolor.
So many have paused by the bagpipes--
a father who lifts his infant
like an airplane, a man walking his dog,
a new family with a double stroller.
We are all tourists here, against
the backdrop of colored shingles,
blacktop pavement, and summer light.

The house, above, where Longfellow lived. Song of Hiawatha. Minnehaha Parkway. Street lamps, night shimmering, mosquitoes rising out of dry grass. The color of nylons matching the green of the grass just as the sun hits it. Singing "Favorite Things," two small voices, whispering, "Wait, wait, let's try to harmonize this time." Laughter. Spot lit hostas, a bike ride, big dogs who can sit and stay. Frightened ducks, all in formation, lining up against the current. Lingering. Summer, lingering.

In some ways, this was good. Eireann says she's had too many writing groups that ended up socializing too much; this group, I think, hasn't had the chance to socialize enough. We need to speak to each other in order to trust each other, offer up little tidbits (sister Tessa getting married August something, working for a gardening place and taking care of a cat and a gerbil for the summer, working at Coffee House press, living at home, finding ways to recover from a family near-tragedy). We can become more human. Appreciate each other's voices. It's good to not know too much, because then we have trouble separate the poet from the poem, but just enough to feel comfortable saying: "Don't do the obvious things here. Of course cigarette smoke is in a cloud. Tequila, ash trays. That's a little better." And to say, "I am interested in line breaks," and want to know more about how line breaks function in the poet's world--to be able to rest on the words, the narrative, the passion of poetry. That's what I think we're beginning to do, appreciating each other in new light. Understanding that she knows her Latin, her greenery, she will write narrow poems about relationships, she will struggle to not write about herself, he has a series of poems and another he has one long poem, maybe even in translation. To speak French. To listen to French. To talk about "Macdo" and lavender and dreams of other countries. To travel through each other's words (especially when mortgages keep some of us rooted in geography). To hope, to hope, to dream. To be comrades in words.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

little word machines

Last night, the heat kept our minds wading through poetry at writing group. It was still good, so good, the thing I look forward to so much, and I carried little snippets in my mind as I walked out. So much of our lives are so busy, striking up against each other, and these few hours, we are quiet, we look at words, and we discuss with a glass of water and a plate of cookies. We pass around sheafs of paper, little roses for one another.

Zachary mentioned how(who was it?) someone calls poetry, "Little word machines."

Nothing superfluous.

Things I need to remember in my own poetry: don't explain, don't tell the reader what you are doing. Do it. And: chronology may seem natural, but it isn't always the way to go. After all, chronology is memoir, as Eireann put it. Use images to tell the story.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

out of doors

Finding inspiration in every moment, every small movement: camping allows time for peace and quiet observation, for recording everything green, all the aches, the rawness of sleeping on the ground with the tick count high. I wake as the sun rises and not because my alarm tells me so but because we are ready and the sun is low, the mist has a blue-purple hue and we cannot see where the ground and the sky separate.

I think of poet Mary Oliver, how her words dig into the earth. I think of my own words, how the natural world rises up as metaphor, as driving force and symbol.

I leave you with these words:

by Mary Oliver

The poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation

of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn't a place
in this world that doesn't

sooner or later drown
in the indigos of darkness,
but now, for a while,
the roughage

shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,

black, curved blade
from hooking forward—
of course
loss is the great lesson.

But I also say this: that light
is an invitation
to happiness,
and that happiness,

when it's done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—

and what are you going to do—
what can you do
about it—deep, blue night?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

the senses {living as a poet should}

Second meeting of the poetry writing group tonight. I sketched out observations, little pieces that fed my senses, as we wrote, discussed, and workshopped:

This is how my five senses live on N. [the mind of the poet with heightened senses]:

1. The way the breeze ripples the leaves, shadows dancing on a busy carpet. The quality of light is much like that on the bottom of a swimming pool, like the playful light is chasing itself, falling forward, sighing back.

2. My brain has the consistency of pomegranate seeds. Each globed piece, a thought, a focus, all gelatenous lumpy (breast mouse), that loose and slippery sense of movement.

3. The sound of lawn care: constant mower, angry trim, vibration of weed whacker, the sweep of grass beheaded. Then broom on concrete, this is the first of summer's vaniety.

4. An airport nearby, planes scuttling across the landscape. I've been so aware of planes when I write poetry in a spiral bound notebook. I had workshop with MDB that morning, before they cancelled school.

5. Rumble of motor. Thunka thunka on strips of tar. Down the street is a greasy spoon with a cartoon hot dog on the awning. This is movement on cool pavement as the sun is setting somewhere far away.

6. Sound of grandfather clock, that ancient rhythm of home. We are all sad in our own family' my grandparents' clock is spoken for, that one relic we were all hoping to take with us, to me, a calming reminder of summers spent there, of pontoon boats and wild Christmas trees, of the smell of well water and vegetable gardens. Perhaps I can find one, the same, hang it in effigy.

7. The sounds of a one sided telephone conversation, an urgency cracked open, but a calm sound too, the hum of a man's voice who is confident that everything will be All Right, his wife will manage to return to the geography of here. Each moment could bring a phone call from relatives or food, concern and giving.

8. Curtains like linen or broadcloth. Muslin. Small weave, texture, knotted.

9. A kitchen cove spilled over with photographs above the sink, curling at the edges.

Other things:

Our discussion of what moves us in poetry, what gets us excited, what sparks our interest, led us to consider this essay. Our homework for next week is to write our own "I am for an art" or "I am for a poetry," whatever that might be. For me, finding a way to put handles on my preferences helps me figure out where I am going. It makes it portable, transferable, understandable.

I will need to check out more of Elizabeth Bishop, read Julia Kasdorf (for her precise metaphors that widen out), find "The Anecdote of the Jar," (I can't remember why now, but we were talking about poems that people generally hate and we love and vice versa; we read "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop out loud and then liked it again) and especially Anne Carson, whose Autobiography of Red sent shivers down the spines of more than one workshop participant.

Love this: Eireann calls adverbs the "Twinkies of language." We can say it better with a noun or adjective. Love that we each tell a poet to take away verbs, add verbs, be more conscious of nouns. A big clash of readers, a poem that will need reconstructive surgery.

My own poem, along with last week's, will have something to say as I revisit it, palm the suggestions, roll them around until the stone is smooth, and leave something new, a little better in the process.

And some thoughts on the blog in general:

Eireann and I lingered, and she talked to me about poems that are muscular, without all the extra clothes. I think my poems are now in confused layers: Hawaiian shirts paired with hoop skirts and a woolly winter jacket. But here, in the blog, I can be effusive (her word) because these places don't have rules and (I hope) will never really have any. I think about how some writers of blogs are incredibly self conscious, speaking of editing, of being hyper aware of their writing. I think this is the one place, aside from my notebook, where the really horrifying writing comes out, particularly when I am in freewrite mode, that I feel OK about letting it all sort of hang out over the sides... which is silly because this is the one place where I have a modest audience, but then: it's not being published. Not truly, not in a little book that you can hold in your hands and sniff that booky smell. Rather, it's just here, it's what it is, and there are very few expectations to how it will all come out.

Poetry plays such a different role in my life. It may be theraputic, as this blog certainly is, but that's not the main purpose. Poetry needs to be compact, concise, moving, telling. Poetry needs to take you to places magically and in the best words possible. Poetry needs to have purpose, to have images, to create a sense of something wider.

Now I am truly rambling. Exhausted. (Things worth staying up too late for: good conversation, hearing a person when they need to be heard, asking something that needs to be asked, rekindling friendships that might have been on haitus, renewing vows to self and poems.) It is time for bed, and I wish you all sweet dreams and good health.

Monday, June 4, 2007


Me, this summer: thinking about poetry, thinking about revisiting, revising, reemerging. Thinking of the phoenix who rises up from the ash, only to be consumed again. Thinking about the million different people a poet can become in the real world and how to fight those to get word on page. How this will be a place, a new beginning, an extension of my self. Thinking about the smell of fruit when it is fresh, about campfire, about the luxury of sleeping past five, about cotton sheets, about the sound of fans, about the seedlings in the garden. Thinking about Tuesdays and that week at the end of July, thinking about meeting Carolyn Forche, about putting together a portfolio, about the old poems. And the new.