Monday, September 1, 2014

And Now, a Word from Louise Gluck

This struck me from an interview with Gluck. (Apparently she rarely gives interviews) in this month's Poets and Writers magazine:

"For me it's tone--the way the mind moves as it performs its acts of meditation. That's what you're following. It guides you but also mystifies you because you can't turn it into conscious principles or say precisely what its attributes are. The minute you turn tone into conscious principle it goes dead. It has to remain mysterious to you. You have to be surprised by what it is capable of unveiling."

That's what I love about writing poetry. The work itself unveiling to you, the work itself letting you know what it needs to say.

Monday, August 18, 2014

From "The Edith Wharton Sentences"

The First of November

“I shouldn’t have had to ruin this umbrella by using it in the rain. A frying pan, or cookie sheet is never more perfect than when it hangs on a shelf in some kitchen notion shop. An umbrella in its stand is the idea of an umbrella, while the same object, flecked with sleet and turned half inside-out in a rough onslaught of November wind, is that idea put forth and the argument lost. Weather and time together win every debate they have ever staged, even against hearty teams such as steel, concrete, brick walls, and hope.”
The shop girl looked at me as if I hadn’t spoken. “Do you want this wrapped as a gift,” she said. So I suppose we understood one another after all. We lived on the borders of the wicked city, it was the first of November, and the weatherman’s promised gale had only just arrived.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

About Time: Thunderbird, Little Red Riding Hood, and Edith Wharton, among other things.

It flows, apparently, and runs, and gets away from me like a horse might get away, by swimming into the ocean.  I haven't been blogging, at any rate.  But rather than offer excuses or explanations I think I'll just start again. And say that I have read a lot of things, young adult novels I read for my day job, and novels and nonfiction I read because reading is what I do.  And poetry, always.  The last book of poetry I read that made me want to right away respond by writing my own poems was Dorothea Lasky's Thunderbird.  A couple of weeks ago I sat on a bench at the Chicago lakefront on a beautiful day.  I read a poem from Thunderbird, and then write a poem in my notebook.  Rinse, repeat.  It was a really good morning.

I also recently read an anthology forthcoming from Viking in March 2015, Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation.  Dorothea Lasky is represented, and other poets I've long admired, James Allen Hall, Mark Bibbins, Timothy Donnelly, Matthew Zapruder, Melissa Broder, Matthew Dickman, Ocean Voung, and Michael Dickman, among others.  It's the kind of anthology I wish I'd had when I was 20, and all the anthologies seemed to be filled with poets that were either dead, or, to my 20 year old self, yes, unforgivably old, so much older than I that they seemed to already belong to history rather than the now.

Now, of course, I am older than poets who seemed so old to me then. Still and all it's valuable for young people to have an anthology made up of contemporary voices.

In my own work, I'm writing 3-4 new drafts for my Edith Wharton Sentences each week, and also typing already-written pieces into the growing document. Finishing one manuscript this year has whetted my appetite to complete more, and I think I have a very good shot at being done with the project before 2014 is over.  I've also being working on a series of new spider poems, probably prose poems, if they remain in their current form. I did a mash-up of spider imagery combined with exercises from a textbook on the Little Red Riding Hood story that I found in a thrift store. I go back and forth on thinking they are really great to seeing them as just exercises that should not see the light of day.  Lucky for me they can hang out in a notebook and marinate for a while.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Short Takes on Two Recent Books

The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog, by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

Each poem in this book is comprised of three speakers, the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog, and each speaker always speaks in this order, although the Dog does not always get the last word, so to speak.  The Old Woman speaks of human concerns, the Tulip is the voice of Beauty, and the Dog speaks for the animal.  Yet they also speak of what they are, woman, flower, dog, just themselves, if those selves could all cogently speak. The trio discuss God, Love, Death, the nature of Man.  I thought I'd had other books by Ostriker on my shelf, but I can't find any now.  I do remember using her book Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America when writing some papers in grad school. This one will remain on my shelf--I love the interplay of the three voices, how their conversations open up the world, and how, when you listen to speakers who are good at arguing their case, your loyalties and opinions shift and change like leaves in the wind.

Here is one of the shorter poems in this collection:

Soften and Melt

The man man made me soften and melt
said the old woman.

The bee made me shiver like a rag
said the dark red tulip.

The bitch made me push
said the dog.

Bay of Angels, by Diane Wakoski

Why do we chew again and again on the bones of old wrongs?  Why are we (are some of us, many of us, most of us?) haunted by old love, love gone wrong, ancient betrayals, decades-old heartbreak?  This can be true, I think, even if our present is relatively happy and drama-free.  Wakoski examines her past with movies and myth as her companions, finding tropes in both that twine and echo in her own life.  In the last section of the book, "The Lady of Light Meets the Shadow Boy," she writes poems that are inspired by a new friendship/mentorship with the poet Matthew Dickman, yet these poems, too, are meditations on the past, and what both poets share from it. I am always in awe of Wakoksi's catalog of imagery: the natural world, the urban environment, jewels, cloth, flowers, cinema, the qualities of light, as well as her ear for prosody and her skill with line-breaks. This collection, along with her previous book, The Diamond Dog, indicate to me another flowering in this poet's career.  Some of the fieceness of her earlier work is not here, but she has replaced anger (which was exciting) with a hard-won wisdom (calmer, but perhaps more beautiful.)  I look forward to her work, always.

Here's the third stanza of "Some Beauty Needs a Dimness." The poet is describing how a winter scene would be different if the sun were out:

                                                Now the 
gold and green and orange snow blowers and shovels
would come out, a reminder of
worldly destruction; the kids in red gloves would
dirty the world with snowballs, the car mufflers
would blow out a column of asserive, lively particles,
some perhaps staining the snow blue. Even the light itself would be
cheerful and lose its sonority.
Edward Weston's pepppers -- wouldn't you shudder
if they were green? Would you ever want to see a Greta Garbo 
film in color?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The World Will Find A Way to Break Your Heart

From an interview with Mark Doty in Tricycle

Mark Doty: Grief does not seem to me to be a choice. Whether or not you think grief has value, you will lose what matters to you. The world will break your heart. So I think we’d better look at what grief might offer us. It’s like what Rilke says about self-doubt: it is not going to go away, and therefore you need to think about how it might become your ally.

I find that line all the time in my notebooks, "the world will break your heart." Or better, " the world will find a way to break your heart."

Friday, February 21, 2014

The idea of the leap

"I love Robert Bly's idea of the leap and Lorca's duende. For me, these two concepts can supercharge a poem. They are jet fuel. Bly defines a leap as movement from the conscious to the unconscious and back again. For me this is true to the way the human mind works. We are continually moving between the reality and dream, daydream, memory, fantasy. And duende is that acknowledgment of mortality—the shadow of death. So for me these concepts are central to the poetic process: the self or voice, sense images, moving from the conscious to the unconscious, and duende." -- Barbara Hamby, in an interview in Superstition Review
I've really been enjoying her New and Selected Poems

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dear Wrought Iron Fence,

In troubled times I imagine turning you into
a weapon. Tonight in full

moonlight I decide what you might say
if you could speak,

a voice that sounds like Mary Tyler Moore when
she holds a spear.

In December ice is your secret
friend, I can tell

by the ferocious way each glass
knife finds

a way to embrace you.

(One of the 69 Letters poems)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hidden From Me in Veils of Cloud

I was in Seattle for much of this past week at Winter Institute, a conference for booksellers. It's always such a buzz to be with 500 other slightly insane bookstore types and writers, discussing business, authors, reading, and the like. Not to mention hauling away a metric ton of free books. The sad part was that I didn't actually get to experience much of Seattle. The conference business starts in the early morning and goes on through the day, with publisher sponsored dinners at fancy venues in the evening. On the last day I took a walk with my coworker Sarah and we went to the Pike Place fish market.  And on the first night there was an opening party at Elliot Bay Book Company, where I could not resist buying the new Mary Ruefle collection and Frank Stanford's book-length poem The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. They were right there on the staff recommends shelf, looking at me.

After a breakfast with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, among others, It was off to the airport, where we discovered a nerve-wracking wait to see if our 11 am flight would actually ever leave.  Two things make the wait worth it. I was daydreaming, looking out at the trees-- it was a sunny warm day-- and I realized suddenly that the huge bird that had just landed on a telephone pole about 200 feet from me was a bald eagle.   All winter long I've been wanting to see a snowy owl, but this was just as good; it was the first bald eagle I've ever seen that close with my own eyes. The eagle was only there for two minutes before two crows swooped down and drove it away.

About the same time I saw the eagle, I noticed Mt. Rainier in the distance. Since there was not much chance of crows casing the mountain away, I got to see it over a period of several hours, mist-shrouded, clear but distant, and suddenly sharply clear, as if it had moved closer when I wasn't looking. I suddenly remembered the poet Denise Levertov wrote several poems about the Mountain when she moved to Seattle at the end of her life.


Sometimes the mountain
Is hidden from me in veils
Of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain 
In veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
When I forget or refuse to go
Down to the shore or a few yards
Up the road, on a clear day,
To reconfirm
That witnessing presence.

-- Denise Levertov, in  Evening Train

Monday, January 13, 2014

One of the Ancient Spirits of the World.

Just before Christmas I went to the lakefront, hoping to see one of the snowy owls who have landed here in Chicago for a while. I drove past a group of people who were all staring up into the black branches of an apple tree, some of them pointing, some of them aiming cameras. By the time I parked the car and reached that slushy point on the lawn, the group was disbanding. One woman walked away yelling" who- wee, who- wee" over and over, like she was calling a pig in at slop time.  I hoped a snowy owl would not respond to that sort of thing. I went walking on a sliding cold trail, through the slush, out into the prairie field at Montrose Point.  I saw a squirrel, and a man with binoculars looking at finches, and breathed in the scent of dry grass and winter. But I didn't see a snowy owl.

I thought of the first poetry workshop I ever attended, led by Diane Wakoski. For the first session, she just read us recent poems she'd written, and one of them was the poem "Removed from Natural Habitiat," about the speaker viewing snowy owls in a zoo:

...Part of their beauty is
In their stillness, the unblinking eyes like money that is hoarded,
The head cocked a little, the body stationary, and seemingly

I wanted to see a snowy owl at the lakefront, in the snow fields on the beach, or in a low tree, or out on the cold pier.  I wanted to see one snowy owl, even though I'd seen videos and photos of many of these recent city visitors online.  you can't google " snowy owl chicago" without plenty of information. And images appearing. I found for example, that these owls descending from the north are called an irruption, not a migration, and that more than likely it comes of there being an overabundance of owls in the north, so that the younger ones are driven away by the elders, and come to us looking for food.

I thought I might see one of the ancient spirits of the world.

I wanted to see a snowy owl, with my own eyes, but did not, and so had to cast around for other forms of ferocity, and beauty.