Friday, June 30, 2006

End o' June

End of day, end of week, end of month. I'm finished with my contract. There are no more sessions of my class. I'm oddly relaxed. The fear of what comes next hasn't set in yet.

Today, where I live, we had about two hours of sun. Now a fierce wind has started up as the sun and fog vie for control.

I want to say more, but I'm very tired. Here's a link to a strange but appealing video inspired by Blake's Tyger.

Next day--The link isn't working properly. I'll try and embed the video here:

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Prelude to Fireworks

I liked this bit from an interview with A.S. Byatt:

One of my theories of British literature is that it suddenly began to flower—the British novel—in the 1970s because the novelists realized they didn’t give a damn about literary theory. Or literary critics. And they started telling stories. And the reviewers were still saying, you know, stories are vulgar. Everything is random and haphazard and kind of a miasma. But the storytellers, people like Salman Rushdie and Angela Carter, continued telling stories. I'm sure it has to do with a kind of split in my generation between university and being a writer.

And yes, as hinted by the mysterious “R” in Diane’s post below, I’m heading off for a week in North Carolina for a writers’ conference and Fourth of July 30th anniversary celebration of the Warren Wilson MFA program, fireworks and all. Mostly I hope to sit in the sun (or the thunderstorms), but there will also be workshops, readings, etc. (I’ll be part of a reading on July 3 if you’re in the neighborhood).

The poets in my workshop have already exchanged poems, and it’s a pretty impressive selection. What’s most impressive, I think, is how different all the poems are. We’re all Warren Wilson alumni, but I’m glad to see we’re not stamped in a Warren Wilson mold but have gone in radically different directions. That probably says more about the quality of the writing program there than anything else I can think of!


D: Well, you must be gearing up to go. Are you doing your usual packing light? I couldn't do that... Are you going to have time to blog before you leave? I could post something I suppose....

R: I leave Thursday morning. Yeah, I'm packing light. I plan to take just one carry-on bag, although I'm also shipping myself a small box of books to sell while I'm there. I'm not going with intentions of getting a lot (or any!) work done. I just plan to hang out with people (or by myself), maybe go for walks in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sit and read, etc. I'm not bringing much reading material, though. I'm bringing The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I probably mentioned I've started, and that's probably all.

I don't know about blogging. I just get a sick feeling of guilt now every time I look at the blog because I know I should be posting more but I just can't get into it.

D: Oh don't get a sick feeling of guilt about that. There are plenty of other things more important to worry about than the blog. I'll see if I can post something today. I just don't want to post anything that I'll be sorry if my class reads. And I don't want to jinx anything re my manuscript. And that leaves?

R: You could blog about some of the interesting stuff you were saying a few days ago about confessional poetry etc., distinguishing between honesty and nakedness, between matter-of-fact nakedness and exhibitionist nakedness, etc. Poetry does seem to be split between these two extremes of people who believe that only "abstract" poetry is valid, preferably a sort of abstract un-expressionism, and people who believe that only naked poetry is valid, preferably a sort of graphic nakedness, Portrait of the Artist Menstruating.

D: You mean: "I really like what you have to say about lines. (I may quote you.) I think that I felt the short lines indicated a lot of pauses, as you say....

When you say that TH is in favor of confessional, are you sure that you don't just mean narrative? I know some people equate the two. I see a difference among a) poetry that is strictly confessional--and maybe only people like Dorianne Laux are doing that now--or has she even moved beyond that; b) poetry that uses emotionally charged seeds to go somewhere (but those seeds may not even be organic to the writer)--exemplified perhaps by C. Dale's poem "Torn" or for that matter by my "Mom Poem," and c) poetry that is narrative, but maybe more distant from the writer (though Freud might say it's not!) like your narratives. And I suppose there's a whole range above, beyond, between, left, right, and center from all these. A lot has to do with intention, I think. Is the point "what happened," or is what happened merely the kinetic force of the stream? A lot depends on, too, how important it is that the reader believes X,Y, and Z really happened to the writer. That is, when you read the body of Sexton's work, you get a good idea of the realities of her life. Or Lowell's of his life. You don't get that from mine, I don't think, even if I used pinpoints of recollection in "Sonhar," for example, to evoke the flavor of a non-working relationship. Maybe I'm saying it's the difference between being honest emotionally (and I think your poems are) and being naked, even a difference between being naked in a functional way and exhibitionistic, like a flasher. Of course I'm showing my prejudices here..."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Fanny and Alexander Meet Al Gore

I haven’t yet seen the Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, about global warming, but I know it warns about earth reaching a “tipping point,” possibly in the very near future if we haven’t reached it already, where the destructive effects of global warming will be impossible to turn around. Bear with me here, but last night I happened to find Bergman’s great film Fanny and Alexander on TV and watched it again. What it made me realize is that the human race may also be at a tipping point when it comes to our emotional, psychological life, the life of the soul. This film is incredibly rich in imagery and imagination, so sensual and philosophical at once, and has an emotional range that would be inconceivable not only in most Hollywood movies but almost anywhere in our society.

I think it’s this issue of emotional range that for me is the key. I imagine that if you hear sounds and music only within a narrow frequency, or see colors only within a narrow band of the spectrum, you slowly but surely become blind and deaf to anything outside that narrow band. Once that happens, you just can’t hear those sounds or see those colors anymore. You’ve lost them for good. Doesn’t the same thing happen when we’re only exposed to a narrow range of emotions day after day in the media? We literally can’t feel anything outside that range anymore. This is serious! When you wonder why people don’t feel more outrage at Bush claiming a God-given right to ignore the law, is it perhaps because they’ve crossed a tipping point where they can literally no longer feel that sort of outrage? Have our hearts atrophied to the point where they are so small that once they’re filled with the fake sentimental emotions of talk shows and politicians, there’s no room for anything else? If they haven’t reached that point yet, they’re moving in that direction, and there will come a tipping point. Isn’t that exactly why poetry and art are so crucial? They’re all that keep us open to something more than the pablum we’re fed every day. Okay, end of rant. See the film. Both of them—they’re connected!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Gonna fly

First off, right up front, please read Robert's meatier posts if you are hungry for thought-provoking discussions about poetry. Right now, I seem to be preoccupied with getting through the days, the weeks, the months, with having my life work out in some okay way.

I just wanted to put on record that my course, the poetry workshop I will be teaching for City College Continuing Education, is going to fly. No, I did not get the required number of people--unless a lot sign up tonight at Fort Mason--but Kirk Stoller, the guy in charge, is letting us go ahead anyway, although they will reduce what I will be paid. Since I'm not doing this for the money anyway (is anything involving poetry done for the money?), that's all right by me. I've put some time into preparing this class, I'd like to be able to put it on my CV, and mostly, I want the experience. I want to know, too, if this is a direction I want to go in or not. Some people, as my friend Idris says, have the teaching gene; some do not. I doubt I do. I'm far too nervous. But I want to find out.

I'm nervous, but I'm pretty sure I'll get through the three hours. I have an enormous leather tote filled with books--no, stuffed with books. I'm taking my laptop (and there's Internet access in the classroom). I've put together a 15-page handout. The students are supposed to bring copies of a poem they've written. If that (and the preliminaries) don't take us through the evening, we can just read poems from those books. If we read one poem from each of the books, we'll be there through the weekend!

I'm more nervous about the extra-curricular things. Getting there and (especially) getting back, because it involves night driving and I don't see well at night. But the tradeoff is that traffic isn't bad at that hour. All I need to do is put my car in the right lanes, basically.

I might write more about this later...


Later. I survived. Not a huge turnout, but it's working. Hey, I talked myself into a corner a few times (Donald Duck like), but I don't feel too bad. I wasn't teaching CPR or anything. There's a fair amount of give, you know. Like Spandex. Oh yeah, I've had a glass of wine.

Driving to the class, I heard a urban parcours (sp.?) athlete talk about getting into a zone where there was a "warm hole in my head and I'm in there." I might have got that wrong, but it was so interesting that this guy probably had not idea of the metaphor he'd just created.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Of Moose and Mold

I know that prose poems are a tired subject, but I’ve been thinking about them because I decided to include one of my poems on the Amazon listing of my book and made a mistake when I uploaded it so it came out as a prose poem and, well, I decided I liked it better that way.

I am one of those people who gets excited when I see a prose poem. It just looks more interesting than its broken-line cousins. I realize this is an irrational response, though no less rational than a spontaneous negative response. A prose poem seems to say, “I have a story to tell” or “I have something to say,” while verse says, “Here is a thing I have made.” And if the prose poem does not have a story to tell, so much the better! I love how the narrative or expository expectations of prose are undercut by the sheer lyricism of the piece itself, e.g., Karen Volkman’s “A Light Says Why.” I’m also attracted by the urgency of prose. If you’re writing a suicide note, you don’t worry about line breaks.

In connection with the sense of urgency, I’ve been thinking about my need to write. It’s almost a cliché that a true poet writes out of an inner need (as opposed to cranking out another poem to keep a teaching job). I have some doubts, though, about writing out of compulsion. Sure, in a way I feel I need to write in order to “fulfill my destiny,” but probably 99% of people go through life quite happily without ever “fulfilling their destiny,” so you can’t exactly call it a need. More importantly, are the best poems written out of necessity? Legal briefs to save a convict on Death Row may be, but “Sunday Morning”?

Like science, poetry comes out of an intense focus on things that do not seem to warrant our attention. Who feels an inner need to study some mold growing on a dish in the sink? Yet that’s how penicillin was discovered. Elizabeth Bishop may have felt compelled to write about the suicide of her lover. She probably did not feel compelled to write about a moose or a filling station or Robinson Crusoe. But by working against her compulsion and, instead of writing about her obsession, writing about an armadillo and a baby rabbit, her passion came through all the more loud and clear:

and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft!—a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!

That clenched fist is so much more powerful when seen in the context of Bishop’s almost scientific observation of the scene, her wonderful “short-eared.” When you will yourself to write what you don’t need to write, isn’t that when your compulsion most nakedly shows through?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Countdown to Thursday

I need four more students by Thursday for my class to happen. For more information, see the City College Continuing Education site (in San Francisco.)

Commercial over. Return to your regularly scheduled life.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bridesmaid in black

I haven't posted in a while, and I'm due. I've been busy working on my latest contract. I probably shouldn't talk about it--having been bitten by my big mouth, I'm twice shy. But I'll say that I'm writing a manual in Microsoft Word, a project any tech writer worth her salt dreads. Those of you who don't know any other word processor don't know what you're missing, don't know what it's like to make a decision and have it stay instead of reverting at will in some devil-induced fashion. Geesh. it's good to be earning some money, but I definitely feel like I'm earning it.

At the same time, if I believed in astrology, I would say that it must be in my stars that friends from the past would suddenly be appearing on my doorstep. It's been reunion city here (the actual reunion--#38 for my high school--is happening in September) but old friends have needed our help, come into town, stayed for dinner, stayed the night... Whew! If we vacuumed the dog hair three times this week, you know it's been Grand Central. Tonight is quiet, thankfully, John and I stationed like bookends on either side of the coffee table, both of us with our Powerbooks, Greta curled up between us.

I have to say that I'm very depressed about my poetry. I'm not depressed about writing it. I know well that it will wait for me and I don't feel "blocked," just doing my best to take care of matters of the physical world. (I'm terribly anxious about those matters, but even so...) But I don't feel at all confident that my writing will ever matter, will break through the surface, will rise to the top. I'm still sending Demimonde out, but after 16 or more times as almost-won, what chance does it have? And even if I had the time to revise and reshuffle it now, I wouldn't know if I'm making it better or worse or simply different.

I sent a packet out recently with a description of the book. Robert was right--the description needed work--so I fiddled with it. Here's my definition of Demimonde, the book that is almost good enough.

Demimonde, which means, literally, half world, is usually defined as an underworld or underclass of people. I think of it as an underworld that is under the visible world, an undercurrent or subconscious world. So it is the vulnerable underbelly of the world.

At the same time, Demimonde is the small world inhabited by each of us, with our own needs and obsessions. My manuscript, Demimonde, is a book of poems generated by these small worlds, occurring in them.