Sunday, July 29, 2007

An odd predicament

A week ago, I was reading the miniscule book review section of The Chronicle and there was a review of a poetry book by Ellen Bass. There are so few reviews of poetry in the local paper, that I usually feel obligated to read them, at least cursorarily. I didn't have much time, as the poetry group was coming and I had much cleaning to do. But though I read the review quickly, my eyes zeroed in on two lines -- quoted not from Bass, but from Mary Oliver: "There is only one question:// how to love this world."

Actually, the review misquoted it as "the" world, but I googled it and found it was from a poem called "Spring". I don't recall ever seeing this poem. It's not, to my mind, very earthshaking, though it's a good enough poem. The thing is, these are exactly two lines that appear in a poem of mine: "Copernican Revolution." Though that poem has gone through many overhauls including the recent addition of a stanza, the original poem, which very much centers around those lines, was from the late eighties. The Oliver poem -- at least the book it was published in -- is from 1992. My poem is unpublished -- though it's in my well-circulated manuscript. I sure don't think Mary Oliver copied those lines from me -- but neither do I remember ever reading that poem or that book or even much Mary Oliver.

So has this ever happened to you? What would you do? Should I remove the poem from my manuscript? Here's the last stanza of "Copernican Revolution":

There’s only one question:
how to love this world, how to find
the will to serve it—
each morning, the new baby skin of light.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Blogging under the influence ...

I said I would blog this weekend, and here it is, past 7:00 p.m. on Saturday. It was a busy day: John and I took the dog to Pine Lake with the minor detour of neighborhood garage sales. (I bought some lovely linens and crochet doilies and such, the kind of things I had hoped to inherit from my mom, but which disappeared during her final illness. You can't dwell on such things.) Then we went to Sloat Nursery to replace plants that bit the dust during the deck construction. I planted them later. Then we visted the Urban Farmer store so John could get advice and thingies for repairing our garden irrigation -- also mucked up during the deck work, although John believes a gopher or something was gnawing on the underground tubes. He worked on the garden irrigation while I got groceries. I worked back there while he had a beer and kibbutzed. And here it is evening, and I'm sipping some of the wine we have leftover from the wedding. The fog and the wind have come in on our hill. In a short while I will cook some red snapper and rice pilaf and maybe some broccoli stir-fried with garlic and red pepper. But you don't really want to hear any of this.

I never stop thinking about poetry even when I am stopped from doing poetry. Even when I am writing about thermal protection materials for NASA. I meant to comment on the essay by CK Williams in APR, republished in Poetry Daily that Greg Rappelye discussed-quite a while ago -- and that even before that Robert Thomas pointed me to. Whew! All that linking about wore me out.

But really, I thought it was quite an interesting essay, though after a glass of wine, damned if I'll be able to say anything cogent about it. What I meant to do all along is just quote the bits that I liked most, so here goes.

I might in fact be talking to the poor self I was in those days, who thrashed about in so many unknowables, not the least of which was how to think about itself, and what to ask of itself, because so much was asked that seemed off the point, and had nothing to do with anything except the host of dull imperatives with which it had been conditioned by its very disorganized education. We're inflicted with many lessons about ourselves in the course of growing up, but most turn out to be not only useless but possibly detrimental to any sort of artistic creation.

In some odd way, it feels as though the most abiding element of all this has something to do with having from time to time given myself and the very problematic mind which is mine permission to make a poem.

The right to not concentrate, by which I mean the right to allow one's mind to skip and skid away from any prescribed subject without worrying that some aesthetic or moral commandment is being violated.

Poems can take a long time to arrive, and to find their final form, so surely patience is the word here, but it's worth emphasizing that what actually happens doesn't seem to have the maturity and dignity the term patience implies. There's much more flailing about, and hesitating, and clearing the throat; and taking out the trash: we have to have the right to all of this.

Another, related, right: to be wrong... The corollary to this would be to realize that the judgment that something is wrong, or imperfect, or unrealized, has a dialectic concealed in it of which one can be unaware, and that working through this dialectic in itself can be fruitful.

From this follows the right of the mind to be able to remark in itself and not repress, or at least not too quickly, anything that comes to it, even such ostensibly inadmissible emotions as, to mention just a few, lust, greed, envy, anger, even rancor, even genres of otherwise unutterable prejudice. [N.B. certain people who know who they are.] We have, for poetry, to have as accurate an awareness as we can of the quality of our ethical consciousness, but we also need a firm sense of the difference between sins of the heart and sins of the hand: the mind has a life of its own which cares little for the parameters culture and society propose for it, and it is often this inner awareness which is most potentially interesting as aspects of a poem. [N.B. Same people.]

Remembering is necessarily inventing, and inventing is often remembering, but this doesn't mean there are no standards for judging how things are remembered in poems; on the contrary, the poetic memory is art under oath, but real accuracy has more to do with the aesthetic efficacy of the poem, rather than its fealty to any "real" past.

Corollary: to be able to keep confidence in one's work flexible enough so that useful criticism of it won't be rejected out of hand... But we still should be able to believe in and enjoy now and then our own and other people's appreciation and acknowledgment of what we do.

The last right I'd like to propose sounds odd: it's the right not to know what you're doing, even to not know what you've done.... Yet the fact is that much of the best work produced by artists (and maybe everyone else) is accomplished by small or larger leaps into the obscurity out past our intentions; much of what we come to value most in our own work are evidences of that unfathomable phenomenon we call inspiration.

The hardest thing is that inspiration is neither something that can be willed, nor something you can wait around for.

That's enough for now.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Even the Stars Are a Mess

I enjoyed Dana Stevens’ recent review in Slate of Rescue Dawn, Werner Herzog’s new film. I particularly enjoyed her link to what she calls “this unforgettable clip” from Les Blank’s documentary about Herzog, Burden of Dreams. It must be 25 years since I saw Burden of Dreams, but I’ve never forgotten that scene either. I probably disagree with everything Herzog says in that interview, but it still shows why, perhaps more than any other living filmmaker, he makes movies that are poetry.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Post-wedding post

One week ago, on 7-7-07, our one and only son got married. It's taken me this long to recover enough to post about it. We were much involved; for reasons I'm not quite sure of, our daughter-in-law did not want to involve (or invite) her parents. So our support was (in all ways) needed.

We also decided this was as good a time as any to replace the deck behind our house. We expected family here from all over, and it just didn't seem right to say, "Come on in, but please don't step on our deck." You see, the deck had been rotten and dangerous for years, and even though we weren't going to have an official party there, it would be (and was) a great idea to be able to invite people to hang there on the day after, on their way to the airport and points homeward.

The actual wedding was north of San Francisco in the town of San Rafael -- the weather in July in SF is more often than not miserable (and sure enough was dripping on the wedding morning). But it was hot and sunny in San Rafael. Friday, the day of the rehearsal, was almost too warm. We were to have the rehearsal barbecue -- for the cast of thousands in the wedding party and all the out-of-towners -- at the gorgeous home of an architect friend of my husband's. Friday morning, I had the privilege of going to Costco with bride and groom -- with my wallet. There was no actual plan for the barbecue. According to my son, it would just come together, and it did, thanks to the amazing venue, the friends and family who set up, cooked, and cleaned up.

The wedding was lovely. Nathaniel promised a short ceremony -- "I do, I do, and we do," and he pretty much kept his word. Although I had given them the anthology of wedding poetry edited by Stephen Mitchell and Robert Hass, there was no poetry. Still, I almost cried, but not as much as I did when my husband was practicing his toast that morning.

The wedding was a vintage 20s-30s theme and sometimes seemed a bit like a costume party or a prom, but it was what the bride and groom wanted; it was their party. Their friends and their cousins were great and worked and played hard. The caterer screwed up on about 20 counts, but even so didn't ruin things, although it seemed as if they tried to ....

And sure enough Sunday happened on our deck, and lo and behold, the sun came out. Everyone marveled at our view. The Texas relatives told us our house would be worth 50K there -- of course that's practically what our view is worth here in SF!

'kay, there's no poetry in this post, but Robert said I had to blog about the wedding. The bride and groom are in Ireland on honeymoon. For us, it's been back to work since Monday, gettin' up at 5:30 and walking the dog and driving down to Mountain View. We slept in until 8:00 this morning. How prosaic can you get!

John is out late shooting an event at a vineyard in Napa. I'm trying to wait up for him, but I'm sinking fast. I printed out a chapbook ms. for a last-minute submission. And then I did something crazy. I added seven poems to my book manuscript, the one that's been out making the rounds, getting weary and old. These were poems that I had been saving for BookNext -- but at this point that doesn't seem like it will ever happen. I just had a feeling BookOne needed some tartin' up, a makeover, if you will. Well, sticking seven poems in pretty much willy-nilly might be more like buying an extension than a makeover. Something tells me I better see what this looks like in the morning.