Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is Anybody Home?

It seems as if I don't exist, or at least if my email were proof of my existence, it would be very sad. Okay, I'm not getting offered any jobs. I haven't gotten any good po biz mail since early December. But what about simple informational emails? Are my recommendations up to date for such and such? Is the April reading happening there? Somebody answer me!

Of course, I'm exaggerating, but not that much. I thought I would babble on about this strange way I write poems, sometimes. If nobody's reading anyway, well …

I play games with the poem. I don't look at it for hours, sweating bullets. I don't look at it for hours at all. I may work on it for days or weeks or even longer, but it's in five minute snatches, where I pretend I'm not working at all. I look at it. I'll notice, for instance, a predominance of certain sounds at the end of a line, so I cut and paste to accentuate that. Then I turn away, do something else, check FB. Later, I sneak a peek. Do I like that? Does it work? Maybe not.

I switch to something else, something that's sat in my computer for years, or something scribbled in half sleep the night before. I work on that for five ten minutes, put it down, make a cup of tea. Sometimes I'm working on four poems at a time, maybe more. This method may have evolved when I was busier raising my son and running to work, but I don't remember if I used it then. I wrote a few stories and essays, recently, and enjoyed the ongoingness of the process. I like having something simmering on the back burner. I like lying in bed at night trying to find the one word that will fix a certain problem line (though I admit it's more often than not a recipe for insomnia).

Each time I go back to the poem, in those five-minute snatches, I see/hear different things. Sometimes the poem seems entirely new! I'm having fun with it, and yeah, that's a good thing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My two cents

Greta is having a hard time with J. away. As a consequence, she kept me up a good part of the night, whining to get up, to get out, to come in, to get back down in/on her bed, to be rearranged in a more comfy position — none of which she can do without help. I LOVE my dog, but I had to keep telling myself that each time she woke me up …

And I was having trouble sleeping, anyway. I was thinking about the Rankine / Hoagland debate, kind of retroactively, yes. It was reminding me of something, and I finally placed it. To those who are unfamiliar with the subject, please just google those names and perhaps the word "race." I just did and got 140,000 results. I'm too lazy to link to any. 

The thing was, all of a sudden, I remembered a conversation with my father-in-law. I'd been married to his son for decades. We were out doing the tourist thing in Boston, the four of us, and we stopped somewhere for coffee. That was when my father-in-law took it into his head to tell me that his mother had hated Jews, considered them greedy, money-grubbing, and filthy, wouldn't  do business in a Jew-owned store, and wouldn't let a Jew in her house. I'd known my husband's family for more than a decade before we were married; the fact that I'm from a Jewish family is very old news, and I didn't know where this came from. Eventually I realized that my father-in-law was congratulating himself for being open minded enough to drink coffee with me. He didn't seem to care that what he was telling me (though I never knew the woman and she was no longer alive) was hurtful, that these words once put in the air would stay there, contaminating everything. He just wanted to pat himself on the back for being a good liberal. It wasn't even about me (or Jews).

I think that TH's poem "The Change" is at best self serving and, at worst, racist, though it is a poem that passes one of my tests for art, which is that it makes you see/think/perceive differently from before coming across it. Its assumption is that for the poet or persona to have his epiphany (to win it is no longer enough to be white?) it is worth exhuming attitudes that were better (because untrue, ugly, and hurtful) buried, attitudes that are so baroque as to seem to arise not in the 21st century but from the thought patterns of a slave-owning society. (To think that some of us already thought this "change" had long since come!)

So now those descriptions will hang there, affecting, infecting: the racists among us feeling supported because they're not the only ones to think those ugly thoughts, and, what? should African American women feel apologetic because one of them, in this poem, had the gall to win?