Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Profile Makers

I know I’ve been absent without leave for a long time, but I’m coming back because at Melissa’s urging, I’ve been reading The Profile Makers by Linda Bierds. I’m probably biased because Bierds so often seems to do so dazzlingly exactly what I try to do in my own poems but do somewhat less dazzlingly. I realize it’s a project that doesn’t interest many people at all, although those may be the sort of cynics who walk into Chartres Cathedral and say, “This God stuff is so yesterday’s news. Been there done that.”

As I’ve said before, I am always struck by poems with wheels within wheels of imagination. In “The Ghost Trio” by Bierds, for example, the poet imagines herself as Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) imagining a painting he’d once seen of ice skaters and imagining how the skate blades would look to imagined fish below in the imagined ice in the imagined painting in the imagined world of Erasmus Darwin—and indirectly imagining how Charles Darwin’s vision might have evolved from his grandfather’s imagination.

Perhaps they are stunned
by the strange heaven—dotted with

boot soles and chair legs
and are slumped on the mud-rich bottom—
waiting through time for a kind of shimmer,
an image perhaps, something
known and familiar, something

rushing above in their own likeness,
silver and blade-thin at the rim of the world.

Sometimes when imagination is fully realized, it seems there’s nothing more to ask of a poem. Any “epiphany” would be superfluous, as the simple act of immersing yourself so completely in the quiet winter of 1748 is already as meaningful and dramatic as, say, Juliet’s suicide: “This is thy sheath; there rust.”

Bierds’ poem “Balance” is about L.J.M. Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype, but only refers to photography briefly at the start of the poem: “before time balanced / on a silver plate.” The rest of the poem is about Daguerre as a youth balancing on a tightrope, his inevitable falls, and how the world looks to him on his back on the flagstone streets as he looks up at “the rooflines and eaves, / all the doves in their darkening chambers.” That image of “all the doves in their darkening chambers” suggests so exquisitely how the experience led him to photography. The earlier reference to “time balanced on a silver plate” seems almost superfluous. Daguerre was in theater when young so my guess is the poem is biographically accurate, but it’s wonderful to think that Bierds might have invented the whole tightrope-walking period of his life.

Bierds’ poem “Shawl: Dorothy Wordsworth at Eighty” describes Dorothy and her brother William coloring eggs as children, when suddenly violence enters the poem. Typically, it’s not anything Dorothy experienced but something she was told:

Once, I was told of a sharp-shinned hawk
who pursued the reflection of its fleeing prey
through three striations of greenhouse glass:
the arrow of its body cracking first into anteroom,
then desert, then the thick mist
of the fuchsias. It lay in a bloodshawl
of ruby flowers, while the petals of glass
on the brick-work floor repeated its image.
Again and again and again.
As all we have passed through sustains us.

What amazing language: “the thick mist / of the fuchsias”! What an amazing image! “As all we have passed through sustains us” seems unnecessary. What is wonderful is how the final image echoes another image repeated throughout the book: how the glass plate negatives of Mathew Brady’s “lesser” Civil War photos were used as greenhouse windows.

I’m still left with the question of whether imagination by itself can ever be enough. When I read a poem like “The Geographer”—“They are burning the flood fields—such a hissing, hissing, / like a landscape of toads”—it seems it could be. The poem imagines what the geographer in Vermeer’s painting sees outside his window, and also imagines how what he sees is colored by his heart disease: “When the flood waters crested, dark coffins / bobbed down through the cane stalks like blunt pirogues.” Sometimes imagination is wedded to such a passionate compassion that there’s nothing more to ask of a poem.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Never rains, it pours

Two weeks since I posted last, and nobody else, not even Robert, seems to post here lately. I've had a tremendous amount of work--on top of the ongoing problematic situation about which I can't post. On top of this, we had houseguests, people I really love, but still …. And John was away for days during their visit. I tried to be calm and forgiving about this, but it's not really my nature. Still, he stayed up last night with me as I worked until 1:30 a.m., so okay.

I got my copies of FIELD with my poem in it. I got it, but I haven't had the courage to actually look at it yet. I am, at least temporarily, changing the name of the manuscript, BTW, from Demimonde to Conjugated Visits. Maybe it will have better luck.

Gotta run!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Another garden post

Nothing actually poetry related to post here, though my NER came today, which is nice. All the poetry journals John got me for Xmas presents are coming home to roost, which is a good thing. I need to find time to read them before turning in at night, though. If I plan to read them in bed, I usually don't get very far before falling asleep. And I'm waiting for my FIELD to arrive -- with my poem in it, not that the world will change one bit, but it will be nice.

Today I am savoring being home and working in my office, overlooking our gorgeous garden that is sparkling in the sun after the morning's spring rain. I shouldn't say sun too loudly, or it will bring on the fog and the wind, no doubt. But you can't imagine how lovely it is to be here, especially with the very real possibility of not being here much longer. How I wish there were some way I could just work at home, editing or writing as the mood takes me. But it is not going to happen, and the stress of not having the wherewithal to pay the bills isn't fun either. I keep waiting for John to get that Great Big Contract that will lift us out of debt into the style to which we want to become accustomed, that of two not-so-young artists working at their art. I keep waiting to win the lottery too.

The Cecille Bruner rose bush has started to bloom. By May it will be covered with thousands of small, intensely pink, perfectly formed roses, no bigger than a quarter. The Douglas iris, the red Peruvian lilies, the periwinkle, the little pink and white daisy-looking things whose names I forgot--all these and more are blooming, and the Japanese maple, new green and tinged with red moves in the breeze like a creature breathing.

Greta likes her walks. And she likes nothing better on her walks than a well-kept lawn. Greta is a connoiseur of lawns. And she really shows her pleasure.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring Break!

Yes, almost two whole weeks before I have to deal with it again. Delightful! That is all I will allow myself to say. (And actually, there are some loose ends to tie up, despite my freedom.)

I'm still waiting on some editing work that is supposed to come in today. Meanwhile, I've been revising my Picasso women poems, which I may send out as a chapbook. It's a very rich repast -- revising one poem after another -- so writing this post is sort of cleansing my palate. (I've revised 6 out of the 20 pages, the first four women, since Tuesday.)

I find that time is the best tool for revision. If I can put something away wholly for six months to a year, I can hear it with new ears and see it with new eyes.

The good news is I think it isn't bad. I've been pretty discouraged lately re po biz. Look, I'm not going to be the next new new thing. But I can write. Still.

Tying in this post with Robert's post that came before it and with the mini-brouhaha that has arisen about David Sedaris's making a story out of his life, I have always asserted that there's a very porous membrane separating truth and fiction (or truth and poetry, as in my Picasso poems). Of course I'm putting words in these women's mouths and what "actually" happened was different, but so is any recounting of one's life or another's. As soon as you write it, you put a frame around it, much as a photographer takes what he sees and frames it. This idea was the "subject" of my Master's thesis, way back in the last century.