Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fling Yourself Into the World: Smart Things Other People Said

"And for god’s sakes, don’t write every day. That’s the worst advice I’ve been given. What a terrible thing to advise a poet. To write every day is to pry apart, on a daily basis, the mind’s most terrible crevices. You can trick yourself into believing it is a herculean act, nearly crusade-like. But one can only burn at both ends for so long. Save the poems, let them grow inside you, like a pregnancy, and when the water breaks, nothing can stop it.  Also, there’s no such thing as writer’s block—don’t sell yourself short with such an excuse. If you have nothing to say, put down the pen, go outside, and fling yourself into the world. It’s waiting for you." -- Ocean Voung, in Pank.

"Negative capability, Keats called it—to dwell with uncertainty without grasping after an easy solution. A poem often asks us to dwell there, and it’s unbearable, especially if you have no practice, if you don’t read or if you don’t go off by yourself and sit alone for a while. Even those of us who write, we’re often rushing around. So this dwelling, not fully comprehending something instantly, is very difficult. Anything that pushes us into the depths of our being is very hard to bear. I find it hard to bear. Sometimes I open a book that’s so beautiful I have to shut it because it hurts me. I can’t stand it. It’s like, Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! This is going to drive me into my own heart. A day or two days later I’m saying, All right, and I just surrender to it: Do it to me. Go ahead. I want it. I don’t want it. I want it. I don’t want it." -- Marie Howe, in AGNI online.

"The New York School poets made collaboration look fun, and it is.  It’s stimulating, too, opens me up, keeps me spontaneous, responsive.  Maybe in the way letter writing used to?  Only you’re creating something together.  I find it very exciting.  My collaborative projects stem from my friendships with other poets—they’re an extension of those friendships.  By Myself, which I wrote with D.A. Powell, came out of a late night telephone conversation.  It was Doug’s idea, to piece together an autobiography out of sentences from a myriad of celebrity autobiographies.  He called it a 'Trinidad-esque' idea.  So I suggested we write it together.  And we did.  He provided one sentence, I provided the next, and off we went, alternating sentences—an exhilarating tug-of-war.  I often laughed out loud when I received his sentences via email." --David Trinidad, in Sonora Review.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Getting Rough With the Good China: A Bit About the Work of Carl Phillips

I used to be enthralled with the work of poet Carl Phillips.  His poems often seemed to be loose translations from fragments of the ancient Greek, and I loved their broken beauty, like pottery in shards. Speaking of pottery in shards, just after I wrote that I opened up his 1992 collection In the Blood to these lines:

I can picture him
getting rough with the good china,

how I'll feel about that.

                                             (from the poem "Goods")

After some years I stopped buying his books, which appear with a frequency other poets might envy.  His subject, nearly always, is desire, and more than that, the ineffable quality of desire: why do we want what we want, and how to describe it? Whether the "it" be sex, or power, the will to dominate or the need to be dominated, the longing for love--these things are, if we are honest, nearly indescribable in language, and Phillips so often resorted to the indeterminate: "as if" or "it seemed as if". Despite the fact that I agree that desire--what we desire, how desire functions, what desire means--despite the fact that I agree that these are topics are nearly impossible to describe, how a landscape evokes feeling, why a certain sight makes us gasp, or feel pain, or regret, why the sight of a stranger can evoke such alarming lust, despite the fact that I agree that all of this is nearly impossible to talk about, I tired of Phillips' recognition and embrace of this difficulty, in the form of refusing to make a declaration.

In a 2010 interview in he says, "There was a review that talked about how my sentences are constantly self-questioning and doubting, as if that were something weird. But that’s simply how I am in real life, whether on the page or in a supermarket."

I think I wanted him to bluster, and pose, and state something like a fact.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Man oh Man that Marie Howe. I tell you

I don't know why it never occurred to me before to watch a video of her reading. She has long been 
one of my poetry goddesses.

Monday, April 16, 2012

If There Was a Caution Sign You Took No Heed

I've been fond of the online journal Right Hand Pointing for a while now, and not just because the editors have put me in it a couple times.   RHP specializes in very short poems, and I enjoy the challenge for myself of whittling a poem down the the absolute essential.  It (they?) also publishes and promotes prose poems, that grey area where prose and poetry meet and shake hands, or wrestle, or smooch.

The digital chapbook side of the endeavor is called White Knuckle Press.  Here's "Fog," by Stephani Schaefer, from her short-short collection Coming in For a Landing. Go on and read the rest of the collection now.  Go on, I'll wait right here.  (The fog image is borrowed from this fine blog of images from my home state of Michigan.)


One day you walk off into fog. If there was a caution sign you took no heed. Others are here, wrapped in their private clouds. This is the writing life. Prepare yourself for years of wandering, drawn to back roads and footpaths, then marshland without a path, steeped in fog.
One day you go up your back steps and wonder if this is your house after all, and this your chair. Safe in the warm circle of light falling on a page, you look up. Your dog is watching you, his gaze so intense you might be a small animal.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Where the Meanings Begin

The sky goes to slate blue in the evening.  I am always a fan of walking. I like thinking and walking.  The reason I like my job is because it requires a 20 minute walk to the train every morning (while the rabbits are finishing snacks on lawns and sometimes a Cooper's hawk flies up Winnemac Avenue) and I walk home as the day is closing, and all the people having just arrived home are walking their eager dogs. I get a lot of ideas for poems while walking. Last night, on the way home from the train, after a 12 hour day, I suddenly had a new idea of how I could make the young adult novel I've been daydreaming about and thinking of turn into something new and different.  Today I was finishing an advance reading copy of Paul Auster's forthcoming Winter Journal, and I was so happy (as I read this section in my local Italian restaurant) that I took a sip of wine and stopped and the whole world stopped and looked out the window at the sky:

"In order to do what you do, you need to walk. Walking is what brings the words to you, what allows you to hear the rhythms of the words as you write them in your head. One foot forward, and then the other foot forward, the double drumbeat of your heart. Two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, two feet. This, and then that. That, and then this. Writing begins in the body, it is the music of the body, and even if the words have meaning, can sometimes have meaning, the music of the words is where the meanings begin. You sit at your desk in order to write down the words, but in your head you are still walking, always walking, and what you hear is the rhythm of your heart, the beating of your heart. Mandelstam: 'I wonder how many pairs of sandals Dante wore out while working on the Commedia.' Writing as a lesser form of dance."

Walk on, Paul Auster, up and down the hectic and the peaceful and the shaded streets of Brooklyn.

On a recent morning walk to the train: an encounter with plum blossoms.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A whistling old man

Something I discovered while looking at the poetry shelves at the bookstore where I work: Richard Wright, the famed author of Native Son, turned to haiku during the last 18 months of his life, and wrote over 4,000 of them. In the introduction to Haiku: The Last Poems of an American Icon, his daughter recalls, "I remember how he would hang pages and pages of them up, as if to dry, on long metal rods strung across the narrow office area of his tiny sunless studio in Paris, like the abstract still-life photographs he used to compose and develop himself at the beginning of his Paris exile."

Here are three of the 817 haiku in the current collection:

     A long winter rain:
A whistling old man whittles
     A dream on a stick.

      In the summer lake,
The moon gives a long shiver,
    Then swells round again.

     A spring sky so clear
That you feel you are seeing
     Into tomorrow.