(winter morning by the Sandia Mountains)
in the distance
The phrase sensitivity to language that I have used in previous posts stems from an interview with Charles Simic in which, discussing the practice of writing everyday, he notes that by doing so one maintains “a certain sensitivity to language.”
Reading these words was a paradigm-shifting moment. As a writer, one reads in order to see what is possible, to see what others have and have not done. One also reads for permission. I have for years now made writing a daily activity, but reading Simic point out this one aspect of it gave me a renewed sense of purpose.
Another such moment was reading W.H. Auden talk about what he takes to be signs of a possible poet: if the writer writes because he feels he has something to say, let him go into journalism or politics, but he will never be a poet. If the writer takes pleasure in putting two words side by side and seeing what happens, seeing how they interact, then, maybe, they have some chance of turning out a poet.
With these two thoughts as a guide – sensitivity to language and putting words side by side – I propose to make future posts that focus on short lyric poems. The lyric poem, which I will define for my purposes as usually short and personal in nature, has the ability to pack a lot of life into a few lines. This concentration is what I want to study here. The lyric also has a history spanning centuries and countries. I want to include this too.
In doing this kind of close reading and sharing, it is inevitable that my obsessions will show. In today’s short poem, for example, you have a simple enough observation. Yet, what got me going was not simply the mountains but the way you can get ‘speak’ out of ‘peaks’ by moving the letters around. I am a geek for anagrams and often keep them at hand to thrown into a poem. I love that the same letters can be recycled, the same sounds rolling over themselves and creating new meaning. Which is what poetry is all about – all the words are out there in the world: how do you mean them?
I shared the above poem with a friend of mine in a letter, complete with explanation. I share it here in the same spirit of friendship and shared fascination with words.