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“My Poet”

Poetry July/August 2007

It’s a gray winter day, and I’m catching up on my reading, which includes five or six back issues of Poetry. In the July/August 2007 issue, I came across a short story titled “My Poet” by Naeem Murr. It made me laugh so much with its hilarious but loosely accurate characterizations of poets and fiction writers:

We fiction writers are a different breed from poets–alert, happy, optimistic. If you want to find the fiction writer in a crowd, just pretend to throw a stick. He’ll be the one who looks around.

Or perhaps like the narrator of this story, you have a poet of your own. If so, you might relate to this sentiment:

Loving my Poet as I do, though, I try hard to understand what a poet is. The first clue lies in the fact that my Poet–every poet–is an insomniac.

Read for summery laughs on a gray winter day.

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Begin

Hello again, and how are you, Blissful reader?

While I’ve been away from this blog, I’ve been hard at work. My book is finished. Yup. I’ve mailed queries to my list of favorite literary agents, and now I’m sending out partial manuscripts (and one full) as requested, but mostly I’m just waiting for news. I feel strangely maternal about sending my book out into the world. Good luck, my book! Be safe, be beautiful, be magical. I hope one of the agents will love you as much as I do.

I suppose I’m now in a transition period of sorts, creatively. I’m coming up for air before diving into the next ocean. I’ve started gathering materials and inspiration for my next book, and I’m starting to read about poetry, the brain, the craft of writing, leaves, and everything in between.

I have lots of hopes for this year, some having to do with my writing, of course, but also aspirations about how I live. For example, I want to find balance.

Thomas Merton:

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.

I imagine it as similar to painting a picture. Somehow in the impulse of putting brush to paper, the artist finds a rhythm, a harmony, between cool and warm colors, wash and detail, light and shadows. Art transcends when it’s a cohesive whole, when a thread–sometimes invisible–runs through its disparate parts and holds it together. I think the same must be true of life too.

(And speaking of painting, I hope to do more of it this year.)

Blissful reader, what are you planning for, hoping for, this year? Whatever it is, I wish you courage and inspiration for the journey.

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There isn’t much time for anything right now, but here are a couple of gems from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, which I finished reading recently:

 

All important words, all the words marked for grandeur by a poet, are keys to the universe, to the dual universe of the Cosmos and the depths of the human spirit.

The great function of poetry is to give us back the situations of our dreams. The house we were born in is more than an embodiment of home, it is also an embodiment of dreams. Each of its nooks and corners was a resting-place for daydreaming…. The house, the bedroom, the garret in which we were alone, furnished the framework for an interminable dream, one that poetry alone, through the creation of a poetic work, could succeed in achieving completely…. It is on the plane of the daydream and not on that of facts that childhood remains alive and poetically useful within us. Through this permanent childhood, we maintain the poetry of the past. To inhabit oneirically the house we were born in means more than to inhabit it in memory; it means living in this house that is gone, the way we used to dream in it.

In the forward, John R. Silgoe writes, “Ostensibly modest in compass, an inquiry focused on the house, its interior places, and its outdoor context, The Poetics of Space resonates deeply, vibrating at the edges of imagination, exploring the recesses of the psyche, the hallways of the mind. In the house Bachelard discovers a metaphor of humanness.”

I’ll admit that I found Bachelard somewhat challenging. He’s unapologetically abstract and long-winded, but at the same time, The Poetics of Space is undeniably dreamy and even a bit magical. In the days since I finished reading it, I’ve found myself pondering the spaces I know and remember and discovering entire rooms of imaginative meaning and possibility. If you’re looking for a book to tickle your imagination and are willing to read slowly and thoughtfully, as Bachelard requires, I recommend it.

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Meanwhile, in the space we call home (where the rest of us are quite busy, I might add), this is the scene:

Sprawled about

Christmas tree & a sleepy fuzzy

On a chilly night

It’s as though the cats have decided to semi-hibernate through the winter, and I do not blame them. I want to grab a book, curl up in a blanket, and join them.

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Right now, the alyssum blossoms are at their peak:

Alyssum

Meanwhile, we’ve had our first rains and our first autumn soup:

First autumn soup

I’ve been writing:

Work

And, a few days ago, sketching:

still life watercolor

What’s inspiring me right now is this Wendell Berry poem.

Blissful first days of autumn, dear readers!

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Catching the Light

crystals

This light-catcher ornament hangs in my office window. It was a gift from a dear friend to whom I owe a letter. I owe her a letter, and I probably owe you one too. My email inbox is stacked high with letters to which I have not responded, and in my head are a myriad of blisses I haven’t blogged. So, to you who are patiently waiting for my emails and to you who are patiently reading this blog, I haven’t forgotten.

I haven’t forgotten, but this past week was pure frenzy. Work projects–the work-work kind of work, not the play-work kind of work. Deadlines. Meetings. Not much writing. No time for stillness and dreams and words. Meanwhile, the seasons are shifting, and the sun has grown mild. The cats are starting to warm themselves in my lap. All this week, I felt the dryness of the soul and the restlessness that come from being separated from words.

Finally, this morning I went out to our patio and sat alone to read my April issue of Poetry, which included the translated lines of Jin Eun-Young: “Along my fingertips bare shoots / of days then years unfurl in the cold air.” The light was filtering through the leaves of the white birch and dancing a bit across the pages, and I read those lines, and many more, like taking long, deep breaths. Days then years are unfurling, and the tides are always pulling away from my writing, but then I find sanctuary in a few lines of poetry or a musical line. They catch in my lungs like strands of light in a crystal ornament swinging in the late summer light.

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“Let her have…”

It’s only mid-August, and more triple-digit weather is sure to come before the close of summer, but I can’t help but feel a shift already in the seasons–a shift toward gathering, harvest, and introspection. A few days ago, we picked the first sweet bell pepper from our garden:
sweet pepper harvest

The shift is in my writing too. I came home from my writers’ conference brimming with ideas that I don’t want to let diffuse. It was a feast of language, that writers’ conference–exhilarating and exhausting all at once. Since coming home a week ago, I’ve been trying to channel all that inspiration back into my novel, and I’ve been writing and napping in almost equal portions.

Aglow

I also came home with new writer friends, an armful of free literary journals, and a new favorite poet: Jane Hirshfield. In a room with arched doorways and plastered ceiling at the Robert Mondavi Winery, I listened to Jane Hirshfield delicately lift her poems from the page with her quiet, melodious voice, and I was completely captivated.

Let her have time, and silence,
enough paper to make mistakes and go on.

Those are the closing lines of Jane Hirshfield’s “The Poet” and something of what I’m feeling right now as I reenter the work of my novel. (Read the full poem here, and also “Optimism.”)

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Tomorrow, I’m off to my writers’ conference. I’m excited and nervous all at once. I’ll be gone for almost one week, and I don’t have time to write at length, so I’ll just leave you with this quote:

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.

Those words are from Martin Luther King, Jr., wise man, trailblazer, visionary, and champion of peace. Those words–they’re full of light, aren’t they? I’ve read them over and over again, and they say to me–and you too–“Whatever it is you’re embarking on, whatever your fragile, glowing dream is, have faith in it. Take that first step in faith. Just take the first step.”

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Braided Streams, Woven Dreams

dreams

I’m sitting at my glass-top desk with its books, notebooks, cloth, light, and reflections. I’m thinking of the photos of brown bears, glaciers, and “braided streams” that a couple of our friends brought back from Alaska. Anais Nin said:

Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together.

In Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (a wonderful collection of landscape terminology written by writers and poets–I’m so happy to own it), Luis Alberto Urrea explains that braided streams are formed when “sediment is brought downstream by stronger currents, and it falls when weaker currents present themselves: ephemeral subchannels open, sandbars emerge. The stream braids water back and forth, across accommodating land, until it reunites.” He goes on to quote three short lines from Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser’s book of poems titled Braided Stream: A Conversation in Poetry:

Only today / I heard the river / within the river.

Like so is writing fiction. Like rivers braiding back and forth. Like dreams woven together with action. Like listening for the river within the river.

Today in the mail, I received a packet from the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, which I’ll be attending in a couple of weeks. The packet contained the short stories and novel excerpts of my fellow workshop attendees. We are all supposed to read and provide written critique of one another’s manuscripts.

I’m thinking of the last line of W. B. Yeats’ poem “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.”

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. I don’t think Yeats was talking about the dreams of writing, but I’m treading softly. I want to enter gently, though honestly, into the woven dreams of my fellow writers–just as I hope they’ll do for mine. We’re all coming together like rivers, bringing our own currents, carrying the sediment of our particular lives and writing habits, braiding together for a few days. We all want to come away from the conference hearing, even a bit more clearly, the river within the river.

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Egg or chicken question: is it that creative bloggers write books or that creative people who write books also blog?

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Wreck This Journal

Artist and author Keri Smith has a new illustrated book, Wreck This Journal. See her blog, which has included some of the most inspiring posts on creativity that I’ve read.

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The Creative Family

SouleMama (otherwise known as Amanda Blake Soule) has a book called The Creative Family coming out next year. Here’s the big announcement, along with a beautiful photo of the cover.

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Posie Gets Cosie
Photo: Courtesy of Posie Gets Cozy

Alicia Paulson, who was once a book editor, now creates and sells one-of-a-kind goods. She writes a popular blog, “Posie Gets Cozy,” about crafting, and she’s writing a book too. In her post, “Yep, Me too,” she talks about the book, which is titled Stitched Souvenirs: 30 Simple, Special Things to Sew and scheduled for publication next autumn.

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Music for Landing Planes

Eireann Lorsung makes art and poetry. (And she recently lived in France! How fabulous is that!) Her first collection of poems, Music for Landing Planes, is available from Milkweed Editions. Last year, she made the announcement. Check out her blog.

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Do you know of any other creative bloggers with books? I’d love to know!

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That Hidden Music

blue stones

Anne Stevenson:

The best poetry–great poetry–happens when sound, rhythm, and image bring about a mysterious feeling of wholeness that somehow draws mind, body, and spirit together into what both Yeats and Eliot envisioned as a unified dance. What we call ‘the power of the word’ is really a pattern of words in a rhythm originating in heartbeat and footfall. Language, like the human mind, consists of a conscious and an unconscious element, and what ‘real’ poetry can do, even when it looks like prose on the page, is to reproduce the hidden music we are all born hearing but lose as we grow up.”

I have this quote on my inspiration board. I know Anne Stevenson is right about this, and I don’t want to lose my inner music.

When I was seven or eight, my family drove across the country. I remember staring out the window of the Volvo and feeling the rhythmic visual staccato of fence posts and trees skimming by. I wrote my first poems on that trip. They were horrible formulaic rhyming poems, but they were my first poems still.

I think that the way we lose the hidden music we were born hearing is not by growing up but by ceasing to listen for it. Somehow as we grow up, we learn to bifurcate the mind and the body, the words from the dance, as if the mind weren’t intrinsically part of a physical being dancing to that hidden music.

I look around in my little office, and there is the visual rhythm of the spines of books on my shelves, the keys of the piano, the slats of the fence outside my window, the sound of keystrokes as I type, a cat breathing in and out, music playing on my iPod, and in my memory, the sound of lake water lapping, the fences and trees whizzing past a Volvo window, and figure skates slicing through ice.

This is mostly a note to self, but perhaps for you too: listen for it, listen for that hidden music. It’s there.

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