Sunday, April 6, 2014

National Poetry Month Guilt

Waves of guilt emanate from the computer for the blog-poet (which sounds good but is in the wrong order) who has not yet blogged in the month of April, who has not yet written a poem, who is reading nowhere in these 30 days, who has only been to one event (but is going to one later today), who feels a little weary right now, who is not caught up in the thrall of language, who sat at her desk and looked at her emails and Facebook and the weather before starting to write, who read some Emily Dickinson and some George Keithley, who did some laundry and vacuumed, who pretended getting a manila folder and putting some pages in it counted, who looked out the window, who went shopping for summer clothes (or at least spring), who took her car for an oil change, who enjoyed her walk back even though the wind was fierce, who sliced a banana on her Cheerios, who knows tomorrow is all about 30 student poems and the coaxing and clipping that is like a kind of gardening, who will go to the museum and listen to other poets later today and take notes that may lead with their random tendrils to a poem.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mystery/Confusion and Forms of Diminishment

Last night in class I said that when we didn't understand something in a poem we should think about where it would appear on the continuum from confusion to mystery. If I cannot figure this out or parse it down or look it up or know how to order it or find music in it or essentially create something of substance from it, why is it there? Sometimes if the thing dwells toward the confusion side, it feels like shorthand to the poet/self--the sign that stands in for meaning but that only floods out with significance for the poet. Sometimes the confusing thing is a landscape of rubble--a lot of stuff dumped in a too small space. Pieces from different jigsaws dumped into a single box (although I resist poem=box). However it fails, the reader is left to labor to no avail and it remains a distraction. (Disclaimer: I do not mean failing to see what the poet is trying to do and imposing what I want done instead.)

Mystery feels different to me. I don't exactly understand but I don't care because I am somehow moved regardless. I am not flailing around trying. It's not withholding or careless or jumbled. Mystery allows more into the poem instead of blocking up the door. It offers more than one choice or possibility or dimension. It makes the poem larger. (It is not a veil over something that doesn't work or make sense.)

What is interesting to me as well, right now, is forms of diminishment. How do we err by making a poem (and keeping a poem) small? I'm going to have to think about this for a while.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Snow Day (Personally Observed)

What does it mean that I spent the focussed part of my snow day writing poems? Is it the equivalent of flopping down to make snow angels, of slowly building a snow fort, of creating once again my misshapen man of snow? (I strongly suspect that snow men only worked right when my mother took a hand.) Am I making my impression on you? marshalling my defenses? recreating the world out of the materials at hand--some snow, a carrot, two pieces of coal (and where would I get those nowadays)?

Maybe it's the pleasure of working on something that is only rarely possible. Snugged up in my office this morning when it was still minus 9, I wrote a poem called "On the Way to the Bookstore," but now called "Undergrowth." Really I had very many notes from last spring semester sprung from the fourteener line exercise I like to use in class. It is about a very specific place in Cleveland, in University Circle, so that when I had finished pinching it and cutting it, it occurred to me I should write about the Brick, which was the closest thing I had to a regularly attended college bar. It's no longer there, but I have many fond memories of that place and that time. Thus, "Bottom Shelf Special" was born, although at first I was only writing little notes on the bottom of my typed draft of "Undergrowth."

I love it when that's how it works--me tipping accidentally into the poem and having lost my balance whooshing away down the hill with it. But also I've been thinking about writing poems about very specific places in Cleveland (past or present).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Model Poems

Am I unnatural? (Maybe this is a question that everybody asks themselves and some of us then become poets. But I mean something else.) I'm going to an informal gathering of poets this weekend, and we're supposed to bring model poems--meaning a poem that we would like to write, that we aspire to. On the face of it, I believe in model poems. I use them all the time in poetry workshops because I think they make our ideas about what a poem can be larger, more infinite in variety. But do I ever want to have written someone else's particular poem? Maybe this is a matter of semantics. I am perhaps sometimes jealous of the mastery? But are they ever saying what I would say? Isn't that impossible.

And what should I bring? I'm almost certain I'm going to bring Paisley Rekdal's poem Mae West: Advice. I like it for its bravura, in your face excessivism of sound; its rounding on the sonnet as male love poem; its unusual pleasurable language. I do love it, but I don't want to write it. I had some thoughts about Matthew Dickman's poems because I recently read Mayakovsky's Revolver. I like that his poems are long and filled with wonderful imagery like "All the cigarettes she would light/ and then smash out, her eyes/ the color of hairspray, cloudy and sticky/ and gone, but beautiful!" If I was forced to name my favorite poet, it would probably be Elizabeth Bishop in poems like "Crusoe in England," but that's a very long poem. Maybe "Filling Station?"

Don't get me started on which two poems of my own I should bring!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I don’t have much use for the muse. I want to take credit for everything myself. I don’t mind if it’s a train of thought if I’m the station master. I don’t mind if it’s a thought bubble as long as I’m the one blowing into the soap. I understand the wish to account for the thing that plops into your head like a pebble someone else has thrown or the the thing that rises unbidden from the depths as if someone had slipped off the restraining ropes.

It does feel mysterious how ripples and consequences move out . But how my heart beats without me thinking about it might be the same, or the constant bellows of the lungs. Maybe there’s an autonomic nervous system for creativity, notebooks and landscapes and mourning and laptops as possible triggers.

Is the muse an excuse for loitering? I’m waiting for the muse and she hasn’t come. Maybe we can start blaming her for other lapses--I’m not feeling the gym (because the muse mislaid her leotard). That lousy muse--why can’t she take the dog for a walk?

Is the muse too fairy-godmother for me? But that would be a tangible transaction, noisy with birds in that Cinderella tree and the pesky, helpful mice.

Sometimes bacon is my muse or a weird article online or a word that comes into my head unbidden with all of its slippery typefacedness.  The stories my friends tell or old show tunes. The imagistic representative of a relative’s condition. Who invented ink--that guy or those papyrus makers in Egypt of old.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

10 Rules for Becoming a Writer

1. Be born into a family where a sibling also wants to become a writer. This will build in both sounding board and competition.
2. Spend a lot of your childhood indoors reading.
3. Have language be as sensual in your mouth as someone's finger or a piece of fruit or a honeycomb.
4. Ignore the well-meant advice from the poet who takes off his sandals during your personal manuscript consultation and remarks how some people find it valuable just to write for themselves. (Never think this is what your students want.)
5. Read everything more than once. Well, maybe not stop signs or billboards.
6. Weep sometimes (but in private).
7. Recognize your empty-head time as a valuable resource (swimming, vacuuming, driving to work).
8. Take notes.
9. Find a community or several. Form your own retreat or writing group. Belong to more than one group. Attend readings and buy local books.
10. Don't stop.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Filling the Beaker

This weekend I'm sneaking away to a secret writing hideout with my secret writing friends. We will of course be writing secrets since that's what creative writing is all about--twining up the knotty boutonniere of story, that lace veil, that pair of handcuffs, that broom that sweeps the chaff away. We've been going to our secret island for a very long time. (I might have written the first letter of invitation in Wordstar--that long ago.)

Sometimes I have a project, sometimes I float around and swim illegally off the bird sanctuary. Or go into town to eat ice cream or drive past the house with the long long lawn falling away towards the lake. I always pay attention and get up before everyone else and make coffee. Maybe the best times are when everyone is around the kitchen table (on some very uncomfortable chairs) joking and exchanging book recommendations and talking about the work. (I just attended a terrific reading at lunch today which gave me two new directions for poems.)

But I'm also taking a course through Coursera--a MOOC (I feel so high tech saying that although I've already forgotten what it means). Modern and Contemporary Poetry--beginning with Dickinson and Whitman again, every beginning new. I'm getting a new notebook out of the drawer--red. I hesitated about this. When would I find the time? But there's so many places to squeeze ideas into the day. First poem to read: "I Dwell In Possibility," a prophecy of anticipation or hope.