Monday, April 30, 2012

(What is Necessary) Image Above All

I think I might have mentioned earlier my feelings about form--not dismissal which seems too brutal and foolish, but perhaps thinking of it as of secondary importance. Even as I write that, I realize what a firestorm of disagreement and repudiation I might unleash. And it's all because I learned how to write when free verse still felt new and subversive. Let me begin again. Point one of my personal manifesto.

When I teach poetry, whether literature class or workshop, the first thing I discuss is image. Image as setting, image as tone, image as the referent of emotion. Image which allows the reader to put his or her finger into the physical world of the poem, understanding what is true because he or she knows this is how sunlight really does feel on skin. Image establishing a world and an authority.

Stark image--standing in for. A chair in the poem that we can sit on. Complex image which feels wonderfully apt at first encounter and then keeps unfolding, accruing meaning, suggesting more the longer we consider. 

I was having a little facebook conversation about this with someone late last week, trying to enumerate the examples I might use--Bishop, Plath. That fork poem by Simic. And then this morning I opened a book of poems by Tomas Transtromer, Windows and Stones. I was struck dumb with admiration in the second poem:
"Now my letter is with the censor . . . . / my words leap like apes onto a grating/ shake it, go stiff, and bare their teeth." (from "To Friends Behind a Border")

How else to inhabit the world if not through the senses?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Imaginary Geography (or do I mean landscape?)

When I was young, my sister and I played a game called Good Land and Bad Land. Good Land was on the right side of my grandmother's backyard which had a giant sycamore tree. Bad Land was on the left; it was narrower and had the garage (always a place of potential menace/discomfort). I don't fully remember what happened in this game, except that we would sometimes move from one side of the yard to the other by walking on the grass and whatnot growing in the cracks of the walkway. Both sides had a border of rosebushes. (OK, we used to be Catholic. That probably explains a lot.)

I was thinking about this only because in my class I've been asking students about their good lines and bad lines.I think I have a pretty good eye/ear for this. Unlike my childhood game, the point here is to eradicate Bad Land and live only in the good lines--lines that sing (I'm sorry, they do) exploding our consciousness with their imagistic wildness. Lines that are bold and long and unabstract. Lines that are clipped as if each new phrasing were held in small hands. Lines like diving boards or knives or fragrant combs of honey. Lines that no one else could find the words to say. Lines like ripples in a pool or waves in the ocean. Lines that will not let you alone. They grip you as should each title,each word, each first line, each last. Lines that break you apart and put you together new.

(My sister remembers Good Land and Bad Land as being played at our house on Mapledale as well which could kick off a great discussion of the reliability of past senses [or as we know it--memory].)

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Good News

The good news is that I've written another poem for the manuscript--"Clamshell, Get Back"-- and even figured out a pretty terrific place for it to nestle in the ms. I think it goes, but somehow it feels unbalanced in comparison. I think it's the cheese factor--you know, it hasn't aged enough--or it hasn't somehow pushed into my brain asserting its rightness as a poem will do. For instance, I'm still fiddling around with the order of the last four stanzas. I notice I like to have a stanza that is a short, gritty list as a kind of "turn" stanza towards the end.

I'm pleased about this poem because it came from a number of notes I took when I was sitting and resting my feet at AWP (OK and in a few panels/readings, too) which makes all time spent in the pursuit of poetry just that much more worthwhile.

I've been getting some acceptances (keep your eye out!) and some rejections lately. This must mean it's time for another giant outpouring of work into the great maws of lit magazines everywhere. I just sent to Chagrin River Review (which is new and local to me) and I see next on my list is Conte (where they have liked me before). Think of me tomorrow morning hustling at the keyboard. (Electronic submissions are the best.)

So plans for the weekend--send poems out, last edits and table of contents fiddle on manuscript, make ms. submission list, maybe send the remaining chapbook out as well.

(My quotation for this last week's class: "Art is the elimination of the unnecessary." --Picasso.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Because It Is April, I Must Confess

April 1st--wrote a book review and graded papers.
April 2nd--attended an informal remembrance of Adrienne Rich, graded papers, worked on a blog post.
Two days into April and I've already missed the possibility of complete NAPOWRIMO. I have never achieved complete NAPOWRIMO. I yearn to have a life in which NAPOWRIMO could work.

Other years, I've enlisted in numerous groups, not even always in April. I have written poem parts, I have worked from someone else's posted exercises, I have set aside so much time per day to concentrate. It just doesn't seem to be the way I work. I often think if only I had a series idea!

The closest I've ever come to writing every day was a three week period when I wasn't working because I'd gotten a grant. Then my mother broke her arm and her leg and my parents moved in temporarily.

Every time I moan in my head about not having time, I think about a friend who wrote a novel by setting aside 10 minutes every day. And I think I'm getting better at paying attention to my writing needs, even during what is the cruelest academic month. Maybe I could have a NAPOWRIWEEK this April. But which one?