Sunday, December 03, 2006

A conversation about poems

I don't live where I grew up. I don't have to worry about bumping into someone from my past by the avocados in the supermarket (although this actually happened to John here on this other end of the continent). But seeing some people I knew from "back then" this fall, with thoughts of my manuscript actually (oh please) getting published before too long made me feel weird. I gave the manuscript to a few people to read. Tonight I heard from one old dear friend:

"If one purpose of poetry is to allow a reader to see things from a wholly new perspective, it worked …" he said first. That's a good thing, I think. If there can be one purpose of art it must be to change the way one person, maybe, views the world. I would never presume to say to see another reality. Who says my views are real? I do think we go here, go there, then later look back and connect the dots. Any actual cause and effect is fiction. Or we take A and add it to B and come up with an equation that works -- but is it reality? This may be what Charles was talking about recently … Was it?

My friend also asked, "Where DO you get all of your ideas from???" To this I answered: "It's really not a question of ideas. W.C. Williams said, in an injunction to poets of his day: "No ideas but in things."


Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
---through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

And I continued: "I'll go further than that, in a way. Some ideas come from things -- in those cases, it's a question of how much to reveal, explain, clarify, and how much to evoke and leave mysterious. ('---through metaphor to reconcile / the people and the stones.') But often my ideas come from words, rather than the other way around … The [poem we were talking about] is a poem about language -- at least as much as it is about anything else. (Okay, it's also about loss of innocence or whatever.) But the whole poem involves the way people spoke in Yonkers back then … though I have no idea if young people speak that way now. I'm hyper aware of how people speak. A lot of the poem was intent on capturing that."

He also said: "I admire your courage - I could never be so honest." To which I said, "It's not autobiography. I can be honest because: it's a poem, it's words, it's art." But also, what would be the purpose of being dishonest. It's not as if I'm going to get rich from this stuff.


Suzanne said...

First, lovely post, and second I can't resist telling you that I grew up near Yonkers and spent many high school nights cruising Central Avenue. What small world wide net. Fingers crossed for you!

Diane K. Martin said...

Suzanne, what a riot! But you would be surprised how often Yonkers comes up.

Thanks for the compliment and good wishes.